Jazz Journal Profile Jan 2015

JAZZ JOURNAL January 2015
Profile By Trevor Hodgett

Sarah Moule is such a compelling interpreter of a lyric that it’s bewildering that the 2014 Songs From The Floating World is her first album for six years.  Moule’s explanation for the years of silence is simple: ‘I couldn’t sing.  I got asthma and bronchitis and the medication really messed my voice up.  I was still gigging but it was quite difficult and I would only gig with another singer and not sing for more than half an hour but I couldn’t record because I didn’t have the vocal stamina.  I thought I was going to have to stop singing at one point.  Then in April 2013 I just thought, ‘I’ve had enough of this – I’m not taking these drugs an more.’  I stopped taking them and my voice just pinged back.  And because the illness comes and goes I thought I’d better make another album straight away, while I can – because I might not be doing it forever.”

As well as a few blues songs and standards, the album includes 10 mostly previously unrecorded songs co-composed by the late, hip New York lyricist Fran Landesman and Moule’s pianist-husband Simon  Wallace.  “The songs are about things in connection with love but they’re not love songs,” says Moule.  “And they’re relevant, they resonate with life now, and that’s important to me.”

Moule explains how the Wallace/Landesman partnership worked: “Fran had written such a lot of poems which she thought of as lyrics waiting for music so she would give Simon a lyric and he would take it away and work at it.  And then he’d come back and they’d fight about it because he would push her to make changes in the lyric and she would  push him and say what she didn’t like.”

Landesman was as renowned for her Bohoemianism and eccentricity as for her songwriting and was often depicted as being intimidating.  “She was never boring,” laughs  Moule fondly, “But she could be really difficult.  She actually used the f-word on stage at Simon.  She just went right over the top.  She had a sharp tongue but it was more she had no filter – the truth came into her mind and out of her mouth. And if it was about you it could be hurtful.  But then she would be incredibly apologetic.”

Moule admits that she rejected some Wallace/Landesman songs.  “There were some that were overtly about sex and I just thought, ‘I’m not singing that.’  The important thing for me in their songs is that there are layers of meaning .  They mean one thing on the surface but they’re so well-crafted that the more you work on the lyric the more you realise it’s got all these nuances.  And the same with the music.”

One of the Wallace/Landesman songs, Scars, is already becoming something of a standard, having previously been performed by Carol Grimes, Ian Shaw and others.  “I’ve always loved that song,” says Moule.  “it’s about physical and emotion scars and it’s truhtful but it’s not a sad song.  It’s very positive and really uplifiting and beautiful.”

There are exquisitely textured arrangements by Wallace, who utilises suprising instruments like shakuhachi, played by Clive Bell, and bass clarinet, played by Yori Silver and Tim Hodgkinson.  “The bass clarinettists are two avant-garde conceptual artists in sound who happened to be in the house that day and we just nabbed them and got them to play on some things.”

Moule favours a spontaneous approach to recording.  “None of it’s rehearsed,” she says.  “We just did a couple of takes of all the tracks because after two takes I’m no good.  It’s either in the first two takes or it’s not going to happen, because for me it’s all all about the emotional intensity and you can’t keep that up for take after take.  So it’s about capturing the moment.”

The album title is significant for Moule.   “The ‘floating world’ was the red light and artists’ and  pleasure and sumo wrestling part of pre-18th century Japan and I think jazz musicians live in the equivalent now,” she says.  “They’re on the borders of society, it’s not a proper job and it’s hard to make a living.  To me the ‘floating world’ felt like our world and Fran’s world and it’s different to the one that most people inhabit.”