Porgy & Bess

Artist: Fini Bearman

Date of Release: 27/10/0014

Catalogue no:

Label: F-IRE Records


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Track Listing







I Loves You Porgy




It Ain't Necessarily So






A refreshingly original take on this well known body of work, explored through an eclectic array of influences from jazz and blues, to rock. 'Uniquely original' singer and composer Fini Bearman presents her highly anticipated second album Porgy and Bess (F-ire Records), with an impressive band featuring Matt Calvert, Ross Stanley, Jon Cox and John Blease. Together taking unexpected twists and turns, they tell this timeless love story and explore this much-loved music in a fresh and exciting light. Calling on various recorded interpretations including the eponymous album by Miles Davis and Gil Evans, this music is influenced by artists as diverse as Robert Plant and Alison Krauss to Jimi Hendrix.




26/11/2014 Peter Quinn (4 stars)

The weapon of choice of wannabe jazz chanteuses the world over, the fact that London-based singer, songwriter and composer Fini Bearman chose to deliver the ubiquitous “Summertime” as a wordless meditation almost made me weep with gratitude.
The closing song of this eight-track homage to Gershwin's operatic masterpiece, “Prayer (Summertime)” typifies the way in which Bearman and her superb quintet cast fresh light on material that has long since been imprinted on our consciousness. Beginning with scattered phrases in free time, it builds inexorably. As Bearman's voice soars ever higher, the different layers gradually coalesce around a cavernous snare whose entry is pointedly delayed until around the four-minute mark.
Creating the most imaginatively apposite backdrop, the quintet excels here
Beginning with slowly fading-in snare rolls and shimmering, reverb drenched guitar, album opener “Gone, Gone, Gone” features a bracing gear change from the funereal to the deeply swinging courtesy of drummer John Blease's brightly pinging ride cymbal. In “My Man's Gone Now”, Bearman draws out untold depths of loneliness and longing, with Matt Calvert's electric guitar solo dialling up the tormented atmosphere a few extra notches.
By contrast, "I Got Plenty of Nuttin’" couldn't be more carefree, while, set against chiming guitar harmonics, Bearman’s voice is at its most vivid and sensuous in “Porgy, I'm Your Woman Now”. Following the hard driving blues of “It Ain't Necessarily So” and an ethereal “I Loves You Porgy”, the album reaches its high-water mark with “There's A Boat That's Leavin' Soon”. Creating the most imaginatively apposite backdrop, the quintet excels here, with Ross Stanley contributing some mellow, lazily funky Wurlitzer, and bassist Jon Cox and drummer Blease laying down a groove as deep as the ocean. Bearman has never sounded lovelier.


02/11/2014 Adrian Pallant

Some fifty-odd years later, it’s that landmark Davis/Evans recording which has provided the inspiration for London-based singer, songwriter and composer Fini Bearman to present this new album of eight numbers/impressions from the original score, backed by an impressively adaptable line-up: Ross Stanley (Hammond, Wurlitzer), Matt Calvert (guitars, plus piano), Jon Cox (double bass) and John Blease (drums, percussion). All arrangements are by Bearman, Calvert and Blease and are transformatively compelling.

For example, in Bearman’s hands, Davis’ New Orleans-style funeral march interlude of Gone, Gone, Gone breaks into a strong-beat Sixties single, courtesy of Ross Stanley’s evocative Augeresque organ playing and Matt Calvert’s lively, tremulant guitar (interesting to consider Miles’ recording was made on the cusp of a decade that was to be characterised by this sound). Fini Bearman’s voice is strong, soulful and, if emulating this period, utterly convincing. The despair of My Man’s Gone Now, as heard in Gershwin’s vocalised original (though more smoothly swinging in Davis’ world) is beautifully weighted in its solid, sustained, major/minor bluesyness; and, in stark contrast, the plainly optimistic (usually baritone-sung) I Got Plenty of Nuthin’ skips in countrified abandon, Bearman getting into its cheeky, resigned character.

Porgy, I’m Your Woman Now is touchingly delicate, the spacial arpeggioed guitar arrangement here illuminating the beauty, and even modernity, of Gershwin’s writing; and the richness and feeling in Fini Bearman’s delivery carries the song so well. Lively blues to the fore, It Ain’t Necessarily So rings to the crashing, gritty precision of Calvert’s guitar and Stanley’s truly authentic chordal and soloing organ tone – sensational stuff from the whole quintet. I Loves You Porgy, a well-covered classic (and here, as in Miles’ version, a first take) is winsomely engaging – Bearman feels the emotion of the lyric, and echoic guitar and brittle percussion provide a certain weightlessness, whilst Ross Stanley’s bright melodic tone is quite magical.

The chirpy beat of Davis’ There’s A Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon is delightfully remodelled as an easy-going groove, held up well by bassist Jon Cox and drummer John Blease, which Bearman clearly revels in; it all sounds remarkably fresh, shimmering to guitar and Rhodes soloing. And to close, Prayer – a freely-improvised, less obvious impression of Summertime – perhaps suggests the misty poignancy of the previous number as it ebbs and washes to vocal and instrumental overlays, idealistically heading out to New York.

David Ewen, Gershwin’s first biographer, reputedly stated of the man and this opera that he “never quite ceased to wonder at the miracle that he had been its composer. He never stopped loving each and every bar, never wavered in the conviction that he had produced a work of art.” Its longevity, although due in part to the popularity of the mainstream ‘hits’, is testament to that belief – and thanks to the vision of artists including Miles Davis, and now Fini Bearman, his work can continue to be appreciated through contemporary interpretations. And that, happily, is one of the wonders of a living, breathing, creative genre such as jazz.


28/10/2014 Alison Bentley (LondonJazz)

British singer Fini Bearman’s new album features eight songs from Gershwin’s opera. She eschews any operatic style or story, but remakes each song in the individual folk-edged style she revealed on her 2011 debut CD, Step Up. The opera’s narrative thread is replaced by a powerful dramatic sense: each song has its own distinct emotions and fresh interpretation.

Two songs of loss open the album: Gone, Gone, Gone, a wake for a dead man. Funereal marching drums move into jazz-rock 6/8 with oceans of 60s-style reverb. The intensity of the pure, high voice and Ross Stanley’s gospelly Hammond brings to mind Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger. My Man’s Gone Now is slow and melancholy: ‘Ain't no use a listenin'/ For his tired footsteps/ Climbin' up the stairs.’ The voice moves from breathiness to powerful keening as it melts into Matt Calvert’s rock-edged, angular guitar solo- his playing here, and the arrangement, recall some of guitarist John McLean’s work with Kurt Elling. A rollicking blues-rock It Ain’t Necessarily So shows Calvert in fine Clapton-esque mode over a big Chicago blues back beat from the excellent John Blease’s on drums. Bearman phrases the words like a guitar, with a supple lightness and pinpoint accuracy.

There are love songs: Porgy I’m Your Woman and I Loves You Porgy and Bearman sings them with a heartfelt naturalness and directness. The first opens with strong double bass from Jon Cox and bell-like arpeggiated guitar harmonics from Calvert. The textures build (echoes of Radiohead?) as the voice swoops in unselfconscious improvisations. I Loves You Porgy is gorgeous, with delicate opening cymbal work and Durutti Column-like shimmering chords. There’s an exquisite moment as Blease’s percussion sparkles with the guitar and Stanley’s Hammond solo breaks loose in euphoric patterns. Bearman has an affecting catch in her voice, not unlike Norwegian singer Sidsel Endresen.
There are songs of happiness and hopefulness. Bearman has been influenced by Alison Krauss’ work with Robert Plant, and I Got Plenty of Nuttin’ has a country swing that brings out the song’s happy-go-lucky theme perfectly. It also brings out an insouciant folk quality in Bearman’s voice- she admires jazz-folk singer Becca Stevens. There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon has a languorous swing and a sense of yearning where New York is a promised land full of ‘nothing but smiles…that’s where we belong’- Bearman sings with subtle bluesiness, and you can hear the smile in her voice. Prayer (Summertime) is ecstatic, from the opening swooning long looped guitar notes and percussion like rain. Summertime’s melody drifts wordlessly and subliminally by, amidst the trancelike sounds. A thunderous backbeat grows with the powerful vocal improvisation and rock guitar. While studying with Kurt Rosenwinkel in Berlin, Bearman learned the importance of trying to ‘express the inexpressible’- and the band certainly does that in this track.

There’s a variety of moods: love, loss, ecstasy and fun. There’s a range of styles: jazz, swing, folk, progressive rock and blues. Drawing it all together is Bearman’s lovely voice, pure, delicate, and passionate.


27/10/2014 Bruce Lindsay (allaboutjazz) (4 and half stars)

For her second album, singer and songwriter Fini Bearman moves away from the original songs of her debut, Step Up (Feenz Beenz Records, 2011). She chooses instead to delve into one of the best-known operas of the twentieth century—George Gershwin's Porgy And Bess. It's a work that has inspired some major jazz performers, including vocal greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Tough acts to follow, but these interpretations hold their own particular magic.

The London-based Bearman makes no attempt to present the entire story, but she's programmed her chosen songs (arranged by Bearman, guitarist Matt Calvert and drummer John Blease) so that there's a narrative to be followed through the album. It isn't necessary, however, for each song stands alone, with its own narrative strength. Never heard of Porgy And Bess? Never mind, these are songs with universal themes that transcend the confines of Gershwin's plot.

"Gone, Gone, Gone" finds all five performers at their most intense—Bearman's vocal gets emphatic support from the instrumentalists in this attacking, powerful, arrangement. "My Man's Gone Now" is a downhome, downbeat, blues: Bearman's despair is almost tangible, Calvert's guitar reflects the despair and in so doing magnifies its impact. This arrangement was inspired by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' Raising Sand (Rounder Records, 2007), which co-incidentally features an Everly Brothers song titled "Gone, Gone, Gone."

"I Got Plenty Of Nuthin'" lightens the mood, bringing some respite from the emotional intensity that characterizes most of these performances. Lyrically, it's the closest these songs come to uncomplicated joy, matched musically by Blease and bassist Jon Cox's jaunty rhythm. The sense of contentment is fleeting, however. Bearman's next selection returns to the more downbeat worldview of the opening songs as she invests "Porgy, I'm Your Woman Now" with a purity and innocence that both heightens Bess' optimism and renders it the more poignant.

Jimi Hendrix gets credit for inspiring a bluesy, guitar-led version of "It Ain't Necessarily So." Calvert's guitar playing is fiery and vibrant (as is Ross Stanley's Hammond solo), the whole band at its rawest and most aggressive—it's closer to under-appreciated blues-inspired '70s Brit bands like Vinegar Joe and Babe Ruth than it is to the Experience, though.

Bearman's vocal on "I Loves You Porgy," while not as subtle as Holiday's, is just as poignant—Bess' optimism has gone, her hopes for a life with Porgy now fading. "There's A Boat That's Leavin' Soon" gets a smooth-as-silk soul treatment (Donny Hathaway is Bearman's reference point). Calvert and Stanley craft two more excellent solos, Bearman's voice is at its most sophisticated. Heartbreak is rarely this beautiful.

"Prayer (Summertime)," with its wordless vocal, is atmospheric but doesn't scale the musical or emotional heights reached by "There's A Boat That's Leavin' Soon." Closing the album with that song's futile hope for a better tomorrow would have been a masterly way to end things. As it is, Porgy And Bess is still a magnificent achievement.


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