Speak Low Ⅱ follows in the footsteps of Lucia Cadotsch’s 2016 debut, Speak Low. As with the 2016 album, her stripped back and haunting vocal style is juxtaposed with Avant-Garde free jazz accompaniment. Otis Sandsjö on sax and Petter Eldh on bass stalk and circle Cadotsch throughout the record building a delicious tension and counterpoint to the ghostly simplicity of Cadotsch’s vocal. Kit Downes’ organ and Lucy Railton’s cello add to the satisfying contrast of textures. The eclectic selection of songs spans a chunk of the mid-twentieth century, from jazz standards to traditional folk, as well as songs made famous by Randy Newman, Nina Simone and Johnny Mathis. The album acts like a supernatural wireless, tuning its way through the ether from one musical era to another but managing to give its song selection a seamless continuity.
Cadotsch told Arkiv Jazz in 2019 about the singers who she grew up listening to and those who influenced her once she started singing herself. At home, she delved into her Dad’s collection, Dinah Washington, Abbey Lincoln, Diane Reeves and Sarah Vaughan. It was only later that she discovered kindred spirits in Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, ‘wow she sings like I feel’ was her initial reaction to Billie Holiday. Holiday’s ‘speaking voice’ singing style made her feel like a ‘soul mate’.
Duke Ellington’s ‘Azure’ is the first selection, there’s a jabbing insistence to Otis Sandsjö’s sax and Petter Eldh’s bass theme as they try to shake Cadotsch from her ‘drifting, dreaming’. The attempt is futile as her voice continues to float on a different plane altogether. Downes’ spectral organ work very nearly sucks the air out of the room and provides a distinctively edgy undertow to the ‘drifting dreaming azure mood’.
‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ is a version of Randy Newman’s 1968 song, it’s treated like a spiritual with a soft humming intro, her voice is quite bluesy here in its inflection. Sandsjö’s sax gradually becomes more abstract, its texture like sandpaper against the skin of her voice. There’s a wonderful moment where the two are competing for space and her voice, although remaining soft, is raised an increment to show who has the authority on this song.
‘What’s New-There Comes a Time’, skillfully segues two songs, the 1939 standard ‘What’s New’ and Tony Williams’ 1971 psych jazz tune. It’s a seamless conjoining of two unlikely bedfellows. I didn’t fully appreciate the feat of ingenuity until I checked out Williams’ song which I hadn’t heard before.
The album appropriately concludes with ‘So Long’ which will be familiar to fans of Ricki Lee Jones. This version is as spare as Jones’ with a delicious bass intro which Cadotsch joins for the first verse, her voice together with the bass is a delight. The tune evolves with repressed squarks and abstract squeals from Sandsjö’s sax as Cadotsch raises her pitch before lowering it again to that gentle hum.
It’s an incredibly satisfying album to listen to and a revelation to experience these reconstructions of familiar and not so familiar tunes. In truth Cadotsch makes all of these old songs feel brand new.