Cecilia Stalin ‘I.Am.’ LP (Step Like a Giant Music) 4/5

‘I.Am’ is the new album from the Swedish born singer and songwriter, Cecilia Stalin, affording her the distinction of her third full length album release.

In the discussion about Cecilia Stalin’s music, much is often made of the incredible and extensive range of collaborations that grace her CV. Her work with the electronica-inspired nu-jazz duo of Koop always garners praise – as well it should! The tracks they worked on for the ‘Waltz For Koop’ (2001) album in particular, ‘Waltz For Koop’ and ‘Baby’ are such awesome standouts for an album with numerous highlights throughout! And while work with Omar, The Streets and the Cinematic Orchestra soon followed, another notable collaborative standout was the EP with bassist Khari Cabral Simmons, ‘The Story of Love’ (2015). Produced with Bugz in the Attic’s Daz-I-Kue, the four-track release revelled within a thrilling ‘jazz meets bossa’ aesthetic which garnered the duo boundless praise for the project.

Stalin’s is almost a chameleonic approach when it comes to making music. Her ability to consistently adapt and try new things through her varied music projects has cemented her reputation as a definitive contributor to London’s thriving scene. That level of versatility has never been constrained to just whoever the collaborator was at the time but also a perspective taken within Stalin’s solo projects as well. ‘Step Like A Giant’ saw Cecilia tackle the music of John Coltrane for the thirteen track album that presented classic Coltrane compositions re-imagined within a contemporary setting of broken beat and hip-hop.

There’s something about the presentation of *Cecilia Stalin* for ‘I.Am’ however that is less about this renowned ability to adapt to something new, musically, but in this case, perhaps to keep the project’s focus firmly on herself allowing a reflective and thoughtful story to subsequently unfold. With songwriting on the album helmed in large part by Stalin, the music is brought to life by a team of excellent musicians including the core line-up of drummer Laurie Lowe, bassist Tom Mason and pianist Alex Bennett. A variety of guests appear throughout each making strong contributions including Jay Phelps (trumpet), Jansen Santana (percussion), Richard Beasley (sax) and Solden Bertrand (guitar).

And the end result is absolutely befitting of Stalin’s vision for everything ‘I.Am’ was to represent: ‘Brave’ hits nicely like a slice of classic 90’s neo-soul with Stalin’s spoken-word delivery backed beautifully with rich Ummah-like production. The playful nature of ‘Chance’ is bolstered by a nice interplay between Stalin’s delivery and the band, and while ‘B-song’ and ‘Blunt-ly’ also deliver as strong album highlights with really vivacious and warm energy, the 7-minute ‘Released’ is very possibly the star of the whole album – an incredibly well-produced number with Lowe’s off-kilter drumming setting the pace brilliantly before Bennett’s solo in the middle of the song reconstructs the composition, building it up all over again into something completely different but just as brilliant.

Albums with the title of “I Am” are always very intriguing – they can often serve as strong and confident declarations by an artist or they can serve as a question to be answered throughout the making of the project. Whichever approach Cecilia Stalin went into the making of this album with, I’d argue that the question is definitely answered by the album’s completion.

Imran Mirza

Read also:
Cecilia Stalin ‘Step Like A Giant’ (Private Press) 3/5