Songs From The Floating World

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Songs From The Floating World (RAM002) – Tracklisting and Liner Notes

1     Lord I Wanna Be Good (S Wallace/F Landesman)
2     Men Who Love Mermaids (S Wallace/F Landesman)
3     Lots Of People Do  (S Wallace/J Burchill)
4     Scars (S Wallace/F Landesman)
5     Cri Du Coeur (H Crolla/J Prevert)
6     I’ve Got You Under My Skin (C Porter)
7     My Babe (W Dixon)
8     Hell’s Angel (S Wallace/F Landesman)
9     Don’t Fall In Love With Me (S Wallace/F Landesman)
10   Love’s Eyes (S Wallace/F Landesman)
11   Looking For A Girl (Boy) (T Thompson)
12   Stranger (S Wallace/F Landesman)
13   I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl (C Williams/D Small/JT Brymn)
14   Noir (S Wallace/F Landesman)
15   If You Believe That (S Wallace/F Landesman)
16   Did I Break Your Heart? (S Wallace/F Landesman)

Featuring: piano, Hammond organ and accordion – Simon Wallace; bass (all tracks except 7) – Mick Hutton; bass (track 7) – Mark Hodgson; drums – Paul Robinson; with: guitar – Nigel Price; percussion – Gary Hammond; shakuhachi – Clive Bell; bass clarinet – Yori Silver; bass clarinet – Tim Hodginson, violin – Warren Zielinski

Arranged & Produced by Simon Wallace
Recorded at Underhill Studios, London, 2014
Mastered by Dick Beetham, 360 Mastering London

Listen to Songs From The Floating World

CD Liner Notes

SARAH MOULE ‘Songs From The Floating World’

The concept of ‘The Floating World’ or ‘Ukiyo’ originates in the vibrant, decadent world of the red light districts that flourished in the Edo period in Japan. Kabuki theatre, the geisha culture, sumo wrestling, the beautiful ‘ukiyo-e’ woodblock prints, and haiku all flourished against a backdrop of general pleasure-seeking. This marriage (decidedly not made in heaven) between dissipation and artistic attainment can be seen in the Paris of Degas and Toulouse Lautrec, the New Orleans of Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden, and the Berlin of Kurt Weill and Fritz Lang. For Sarah Moule, proud possessor of one of the UK’s most sumptuous voices, the ‘Floating World’ was found in a particular time and place where America’s Beat Generation met London’s jazz nightlife.

Born on England’s south coast to teacher parents, by the time the 1980s became the ‘90s Sarah was a graduate of French literature working for Jonathan Cape Publishers in Bloomsbury. However, she sought escape from this seemingly comfortable life in the more hazardous adventure of scrapping for gigs around London and hanging out in the 606 Club with people who were making a living making music, or at least enjoying themselves while trying. “I thought I’d found heaven” remembers Sarah. She sought, in short, to become part of the Floating World.

A young musician who had added a great 8-bar sax break to an early demo she made was impressed, but advised “if you want some dirt in your voice go and see Claire Martin”. The saxophonist was Tim Garland. Sarah took lessons with Claire, one of the undisputed vocal jazz stars of the 1990s, for several years. Claire introduced her to the art of crafting a vocal performance and paying detailed attention to the subtle nuances of lyric and melody. So keen (and demanding) a student was Sarah that Claire later admitted to her that she would need a lie down after the lessons. As well as introducing Sarah to the rich world of jazz standards, Claire also managed to play match-maker by sending her protégée along to tidy up her lead sheets with composer/pianist Simon Wallace.

“It was like a light going on in my head when I met Si – musically, intellectually and emotionally at the same time. I realised suddenly that I’d ended up in the wrong life and I had to do something about it.”

The last few years has seen a shift, as the discerning young jazz singer will now inevitably perform or record at least a handful of ‘originals’ alongside covers, that are as likely to be the works of figures like Tom Waits or Joni Mitchell, as of Gershwin, Arlen or Kern. Though this might occasionally have dubious results, there’s no question it has the potential to bring a fresh wave of inspiration and material to an otherwise over-worked collective Songbook. In truth, the scene has merely caught up with singers like Sarah, Claire and Ian Shaw, who have long championed a parity between great songwriting today and that of the undoubted masters of an earlier era. Sarah’s instinctive aversion to only singing “really old songs”, whilst recognising the quality of the best of them, explains the instant attraction she felt to the songs of Simon and the late, great Fran Landesman. Wallace and Landesman songs bear the same hallmarks as the classic standards, but both lyrically and musically they sound somehow modern too. Listen to both their work on ‘Scars’ or ‘If You Believe That’ for proof.

Through Fran and Simon, Sarah soon found herself surrounded by the Floating World of a different vintage. At the Islington home of Fran and Jay Landesman, fellow American Beat characters like Ken Kesey, Bob Dorough, Carolyn Cassady, Roy Kral and Jackie Cain dropped in as Kesey and the Merry Pranksters had once dropped out.

Performing with her first band (Christian Vaughan, Jeremy Brown, Matt Skelton) in 1996 at the PizzaExpress Jazz Club on the last night before it closed for refurbishment, Sarah was introduced to John Wilson, who was looking for a singer. This led to six years with the John Wilson Orchestra, pausing only when heavily pregnant with her and Simon’s soon-to-be son James.

In 2002, Linn Records released Sarah’s debut album ‘It’s a Nice Thought’, showcasing the Wallace-Landesman songbook. Astute journalists like The Guardian’s John Fordham and The Observer’s Dave Gelly were quick to celebrate the artistic symbiosis of Sarah’s voice with Simon and Fran’s songs. This new album brings that partnership between singer and songs to new heights, though Fran herself passed away aged 83 in 2011. Seven songs receive their debut airing here – Lord I Wanna Be Good, Men Who Love Mermaids, Don’t Fall In Love With Me, If You Believe That, Hell’s Angel and Did I Break Your Heart? and a brand new lyric from the pen of Julie Burchill- Lots of People Do – again with music by Simon. Sarah’s voice is sounding better than ever after a 6 year recording hiatus. There are few singers around today, in any genre, who seem to live a lyric as well as she does.

It seems churlish to pick out highlights form this album, but that is, I suppose, a function of liner notes. You could take what may well be the definitive reading of Simon and Fran’s best known song ‘Scars’, or Wallace’s arrangement of Cole Porter’s ‘I Got You Under My Skin’, which gives Sarah acres of space to explore a more restrained emotional approach reminiscent at times of another great UK singer Norma Winstone. ‘Men Who Love Mermaids’ – one of Fran’s favourite songs – has somehow never been recorded until now. Simon’s arrangement suggests the sea in Debussy-like fashion. Clive Bell and Nigel Price manage to bring to mind alternately sea gulls and whale song against the merest suggestion of a waltz. The origins of the Floating World idea are hinted at in another tasteful appearance on ‘Hell’s Angel’ by Clive on shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute. Yori Silver’s bass clarinet brings yet another subtle colour to Simon’s arrangements (‘Noir’ is a great example), as do Simon’s own playing and Price’s use of the guitar’s harmonics. There’s a marvelous swampy ruggedness to blues-infused numbers like ‘Lord I Wanna Be Good’ and the Willie Dixon-penned Little Walter hit ‘My Babe’ courtesy of Simon’s Hammond organ and Nigel’s innovative guitar textures. Nigel particularly shines on ‘Looking For A Boy’ and ‘Stranger’. Taken alongside , ‘Don’t Fall In Love With Me’, and the Bessie Smith hit ‘I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl’, this album should attract as much attention from blues reviewers as from the jazz critics who already recognise Sarah’s gifts. There’s Fran’s translation of Jacques Prévert’s lyric ‘Cri Du Coeur’, well known in Edith Piaf’s version, and exquisitely rendered here, with the delightful addition of Warren Zielinksi’s violin.

So much for highlights … As a final reminder of the Floating World, the album seems to end like any number of great evenings in jazz clubs and piano bars with just Sarah’s voice and Simon’s piano on a ballad heralded with a beautiful piano intro from Simon, Sarah asks ‘Did I Break Your Heart?’ Well, did she?

JOE PAICE (London July 2014)