Known as a Jazz trombonist (she picked that up from father, Jeff Cressman. Yes, that Jeff Cressman for you Santana fans), her previous outing, Turn the Sea, featured an eight-piece band with Natalie on trombone and also on vocals. That album defied category but anchored Natalie in the quest for her own music and her own expression of it. Turn the Sea followed Natalie’s debut album Unfolding which first introduced us to that delightful voice.
Enter Mike Bono, the New York City guitarist who has made a name for himself as a remarkable improviser. He has played with such diverse artists as Erykah Badu, Dayna Stephens, Chris Cheek, Andra Day, and more. The resulting duo of Cressman and Bono is a wonder of good fortune for we who love the delicacy of Natalie’s vocals and the determined virtuosity and elegant improvisation of Bono.
On Etchings in Amber, Natalie leaves behind her signature trombone and offers nothing but her plaintive, lovely, and enthralling voice. And it is all we could have hoped for. It is not the straight-ahead Jazz found on her first two albums but Natalie and Mike worked together on all the compositions and arrangements and the production of this album. Once again, she defies classification as she and Mike explore the peripheries of sound and meaning.
And if that is not Jazz, I don’t know what is.
The album contains nine tracks that flow seamlessly from one into the next. Together, Natalie and Mike create an extended tone poem of longing, beauty, love, loss, and remembrance. It is like flowing down the Moldau with Smetana.
Dusk introduces the album and one is immediately struck by the tone and texture of Bono’s guitar mastery. Natalie joins in and the sonic symmetry is unmistakable. Before ever moving on to the second track, I knew that I was hooked. After two or three hearings, I started to pay attention to the lyrics, having been totally taken with the music. Natalie reveals herself to be an equally adept lyricist and, for a writer like me, that is a big deal.
Wind of Whims is more fanciful and is it soon revealed that, although the songs are tied together in the perfect duet, they are structurally, lyrically, different and distinct. The beautiful I Look to You is a marvel of depth and emotion. Losing Grace shifts tempo and the dynamics are fascinating.
Goodbye Lullaby is the final track and makes one secretly moan, “No, no. This can’t be the end.” And, just like that, Natalie and Mike fade out leaving a hole in your heart.
Until you hit “replay.” And you will.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl