“When Lucia Cadotsch sings standards with her kindred-spirit trio mates, Otis Sandsjö on tenor saxophone and Petter Eldh on double-bass, songs from a half-century ago feel renewed, as timeless art is refracted through a modernist prism. With no harmony instrument and the uncanny blend of these three performers – the cool precision of the vocalist, the free-jazz edge of the instrumentalists – such songs as ‘Willow Weep for Me’ and ‘Moon River’ have fresh textural and emotional resonance.” — DownBeat
With a sharp-eared love of the past but a sensibility resolutely of the present, new-era jazz singer Lucia Cadotsch’s trio “Speak Low” – featuring tenor saxophonist Otis Sandsjö and double-bassist Petter Eldh – reanimates songs long seemingly set in amber. Hailing from their adopted home of Berlin, Germany – the 21st-century culture capital of Europe – these three musicians come at the Great American Songbook from a European angle, their “retro-futurist” sound as informed by remix culture and free jazz as by their appreciation for classic vocal records
Lucia, Otis & Petter bring “Speak Low” to New York City for the first time in January 2018. After appearing as part of the Winter Jazzfest marathon, they will perform on Saturday January 13 in a special 6:30pm double-bill in the Sound It Out series at Greenwich House Music School, with pianist Elias Stemeseder as a special guest for a couple of tunes. The second half of the double-bill will present Jagged Spheres, featuring Stemeseder alongside saxophonist Anna Webber and drummer Devin Gray. Profiled in DownBeat magazine, Lucia explained the individualistic approach she takes with the trio: “I want to be subtle and melodic in my phrasing, but I also need roughness and intensity in music. Otis and Petter say in the songs what I don’t say myself. While I’m the still center, they can storm around me.” Alluding to the act of stripping nostalgia from this repertoire, Otis added: “Our common unsentimental approach to these melodies takes away the glossiness that these beautiful songs can often get stuck in.”
Reviewing the group’s eponymous debut album of 2016, Speak Low (Yellow Bird/Enja), The Guardian declared: “Remember the name Lucia Cadotsch – you’re going to be hearing a lot of it,” adding: “Cadotsch is a young, Zurich-born vocalist who possesses a classical clarity, a folk singer’s simplicity and an appetite for performing very famous songs (‘Moon River,’ ‘Don’t Explain,’ ‘Strange Fruit’) in the company of two edgy free-jazz instrumentalists, who flank her sedate progress with split-note sax sounds and spiky basslines with percussive strumming. In this compelling trio’s hands, the process is remarkably melodious and illuminating… It’s all eerily beautiful.” Along with glowing reviews, Lucia won the 2017 Echo Jazz Prize – the German equivalent of a Grammy Award – for Best Vocalist of the Year for Speak Low. She and her Swedish friends Otis and Petter bring the bittersweet repertoire of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln and Dinah Washington vividly alive for a new generation of listeners, as well as for veteran music lovers in search of fresh treatments of these timeless songs.
Discussing their arrangements, Lucia said: “What we do is like sampling culture in hip-hop. We might quote a detail from an old recording, but change the register and tempo and then loop it into our arrangement organically.” The trio arranges its songs together, often inspired by obscure details from vintage records. As DownBeat noted, they turn a high-register clarinet part in “Deep Song” from a Billie Holiday LP into a bass line; they echo an intro improv seen in a live Nina Simone video of “Ain’t Got No” in their arrangement; they repurpose a marimba line in Johnny Hartman’s version of “Slow, Hot Wind” as an outro hymn melody. German magazine Jazzpodium described these reinventions as “like a musical night trip… urban, with an analog directness and a sheer boundless freedom in its approach to interpretation and sound.” And the DownBeat double review of Speak Low and its remix-album follow-up, Speak Low Renditions, hailed the trio’s creative approach overall: “Such is the spell that Cadotsch, Sandsjö and Eldh cast that it can make one feel that this is the only way age-old standards should be approached: not slavishly but fearlessly, with an unfettered imagination approaching that of the songs’ originators.”
The trio’s distinctive black-and-white videos for Speak Low have a European art-house feel, as with the official album trailer here. There is also a gorgeous one-shot music video for “Slow Hot Wind,” as well as live videos for “Speak Low” and “Strange Fruit” / “Ain’t Got No,” among others. Touching upon their European roots, Lucia, Otis & Petter have lately added to their live repertoire an arrangement by the great Italian modernist Luciano Berio of the Anglo-American folk song “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” as well as an English translation of the dark “Ballad of the Drowned Girl” by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. About the storytelling resonance of old songs, whether sung by Lotte Lenya or Billie Holiday, Lucia concludes: “Times change, but humans don’t seem to, for better and worse.”