Lorraine Feather Returns in “Math Camp”

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MATH CAMP / FEATHER-ARKIN: I Don’t Mean to Make a Big Deal of It. Random Activity. Hadron, Meson, Baryon. Euphoria. Math Camp. The Rules Don’t Apply. In a Hot Minute. BERG-FEATHER: I’ll See You Yesterday. It All Adds Up. Some Kind of Einstein / Lorraine Feather, voc; various unidentified musicians / Relarion 314

Lorraine Feather has always been a different kind of jazz singer. She eschews such virtuosity as scatting and vocalese in order to tell stories through music; in her earliest albums, she adapted the instrumental music of Fats Waller and Duke Ellington to this aesthetic, but as time went on she wrote a few songs herself and had some of her very talented instrumentalists write songs for her. Yet she always swung, sang “out” with the voice in a way that I liked very much, and some of her song lyrics touched me very deeply indeed.

Math Camp is an album she has been working on for three years. Some of it was recorded on the West Coast, where she lived for several years, the rest recorded on the East Coast where she now resides. But her style has undergone a transformation. The background music is softer, with a synthesizer and acoustic guitar dominating, and her singing has retreated from outward and engaging to inward and almost a whisper. I have to assume that this stylistic shift is artistic choice, but for me, personally, her clever lyrics are the star of the show here. They have a great deal of the old Lorraine Feather cleverness, to wit:

We are markedly in sync at times,
Out of it at others,
With echoes of our mothers,
For better and for worse.
Your mood is in the sky,
Till you perceive a bleakness in my face,
Or the reverse.

But there’s an overall feeling of melancholy about this album, not just in one or two songs but throughout. Perhaps this reflects her current frame of mind, maybe just the theme of the CD. This will undoubtedly appeal to many millennials who also seem to be lost in melancholy nowadays. Each song gives a different take on loss and alienation, mostly the latter. One of the most complex is Hadron, Meson, Baryon, in which a woman scientist trying to “figure out a ‘theory of everything’” in the universe comes home to her husband and dog to simply enjoy the comforts of home.

Musically, Eddie Arkin’s score for Euphoria is one of the most interesting, its ungrounded, chromatic harmonic base slithering behind her on baritone guitar (played by Arkin himself). The strange mood of the music fits the lyrics perfectly:

I know a man who met his muse
After years of drought,
A woman laid low by circumstance,
Who’s fighting her way out.
One day, I’ll drop a nickel
And leave it lying there,
An offer of assistance
Too much for me to bear.

You get the idea. Both the music and words of Math Camp flow through one’s mind like a soft, smoke-filled, uneasy series of dreams whose meanings seem perfectly clear when asleep but are somehow just beyond the grasp of the waking mind to comprehend

Have another mystic beer.
Tell me ‘bout the problem
You had to solve to ace your application.
The gleam of brilliance in your eye!
The Escher pattern in your tie!
I knew you were the cutest guy in math camp…
You napkin-sketch a heptagon.
You’re charming, but don’t pour it on.
We look at life from closely congruent angles.

all set to generally slow or medium-tempo music as amorphous as the lyrics themselves. The only uptempo number on the disc is It All Adds Up; this is the closest thing to the old Lorraine Feather except for her softer singing style.

If what you have read above appeals to you, however, you will surely enjoy Math Camp for its own sake.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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