Lauren Henderson's Alma Oscura
Lauren comes off a busy 2018 in which she released the EP Riptide and the album Armame. Now she offers us Alma Oscura (Brontosaurus Records) and it doesn’t get better than this.
Michael Thurber produces the album and also plays bass on the album, bringing with him several top-flight New York musicians. The musical support by these players never flags and Lauren is free to do what she will.
The album is opened by From the Inside Out written by Leo Sidran and Alex Cuba. Allan Mednard plays a sweet guitar and Leo Sidran accompanies Lauren on vocals, singing in Spanish as a string ensemble lilts coolly in the background. Mark Dover’s clarinet is one cool addition.
But then there is Lauren. She has the most remarkable voice and her intonations are impeccable. There is really no one to whom Lauren should be compared. She is intelligent, well-studied, curious, and a Jazz treasure. She proves that over and over again on this album.
Something Bigger was written specifically for Lauren by producer/bassist Michael Thurber. Jon Lampley’s trumpet gives an excellent introduction to the piece. There is no doubt that Thurber had Lauren in mind as he composed this piece. It fits her perfectly. She sings about rising above pettiness and the assuredness of being something bigger than all that. “You will never see it’s true/Unless you choose to care.” What a great line.
The title track, Alma Oscura, is wonderful. It was written by Lauren and Thurber. She sings the entire song in Spanish—she is a scholar of Spanish culture, after all—and the guitar and piano make for subtle support of the Emi Ferguson flute. Gorgeous. The songs explores the recesses of one’s own dark soul (alma oscura) while searching for the treasure of her own heart.
Then the Latin rhythms explode in full glory with El Arboi. The Tree is the harrowing account of an interracial couple who are lynched because of their love for one another. It is heart-breaking but also a bit angry in Lauren’s deliberate enunciation. So very well done.
Lauren turns to more melancholy with Ven Muerte (Come Death). Another Thurber composition, it was part of a score for Macbeth. It also keeps up the Latin flavors and Lauren proves herself as much at home in Spanish as in English. And she delivers marvelously.
Where Are You Now? Is about the effects of wrong decisions and the loneliness that can result. Tara Hanish’s cello deepens the loneliness with its heartbeat stutters. The other strings are beautifully agonizing in the unremitting pain of grief and regret. Lauren, however, sings the lament with purpose and exquisite emotion.
Protocol is a Lauren original. It moves with a bit of a tango movement. The tango is fitting because the dance requires the partners to be touching at all times. But these partners in the song are drifting apart, breaking the tango. Brilliant.
The album sweetly concludes with Dream. The song is about a relationship coming to an end, perhaps the same love affair as from Protocol. The song is by Lauren and is accompanied by the sweet and longing sounds of the solo piano. In the end, all that left is the dream.
What a terrific album this is. Lauren Henderson is truly like no other. She imparts the longing and the languishing, the hurt and the healing. Lauren is so very adept at making her audience see what she has seen and feel what she has felt. Aristotle called it catharsis, we call it Jazz. And Lauren is the philosopher we read with such reward.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl