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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sarah Buechi - Shadow Garden (Intakt, 2015) ***

By Lee Rice Epstein

On “Shadow Garden,” vocalist and composer Sarah Buechi returns to the lush, sensual soundscape of her debut, reassembling the backing band of Stefan Aeby on piano, André Pousaz on double bass, and Lionel Friedli on drums. Album opener “Lost and Found” sets the tone early on. There’s a transparent sincerity to Buechi’s music, and she sings the refrain, “follow your heart, if you can,” as a naked plea. Admittedly, there is something refreshing about the earnestness (even though I, personally, don’t usually go for that sort of thing). Aeby, Pousaz, and Friedli leave plenty of space for Buechi to play with, and she skips up and down intervals before pausing for a lyrical solo from Pousaz.

There’s a skittering syncopation to “The Apple” that winds through Buechi’s story-like lyrics, a nod to the Biblical tale of the apple. Around the midpoint, things get super interesting, with Buechi and Aeby performing a simultaneous solo, with the two coming together on a melodic bridge. It’s the standout track, for precisely this run, a flat-out gorgeous couple of minutes where you can feel all four musicians really pushing the composition to its limit. These interludes, which recur on each piece, are the highlights of the album, undoubtedly. “Comfort of Illusions” features a breathier, more expansive solo from Buechi that really highlights the avant undercurrent of her technique. “Right Nor Wrong” hits its stride about halfway, when Friedli takes the lead with a nicely melodic drum solo that segues into another syncopated duo between Buechi and Aeby.

Overall, I wish the quartet would explore these collective improvisations more, there’s a lot of potential in them. Towards the end, there is a transcendent high note in “Irish Garden” that segues into a simmering middle section, with Aeby’s quiet piano groove under Buechi’s reflective lyrics. And you can hear, in moments like these, the rich collaboration being established with this quartet. I’m not entirely won over, but I’m definitely looking forward to their next album.