Liu shines in a stellar collection

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 January, 2008, 12:00am

Elaine Liu's album Stay in My Heart took longer to make than most. Six years after its first sessions, the album's out now on Nectar Records, and those who have enjoyed Liu's performances with the Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra and her more intimate duets with pianist Ted Lo and guitarist Guy Le Claire will find new facets to her talent here.

Initially Liu had intended to record her CD debut in Sydney and tracks were cut there for an album to have been called Keep Your Arms Around Me. Lo later suggested cutting tracks in San Francisco with some of his old friends from the west coast scene. Additional recording, mixing and mastering were done here and Liu says the album is 'made in Hong Kong'.

Two tracks have been salvaged from the Sydney sessions which feature Mike Nock on piano, Nick McBride on drums and percussion and Brendan Clark on bass - Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered and People Make the World Go Round, which also features Dale Barlow, who arranged both tracks, on flute. The moody reading of the latter, originally a hit for The Stylistics, is particularly effective.

Lo brought in some heavy hitters for the US sessions. Bassist Neil Stubenhaus has recorded with artists ranging from Quincy Jones and George Benson to Elton John and Rod Stewart. His long-time rhythm section partner Vinnie Colaiuta has also worked for Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Sting. Bob Sheppard on tenor sax has worked for Corea, Steely Dan and The Manhattan Transfer, among others. That lineup is heard to telling effect on a Lo-arranged version of Luis Bonfa and Antonio Maria's Black Orpheus, while Lo's piano and Liu's voice work sufficiently well in Jimmy Webb's The Moon's a Harsh Mistress to make one wonder if the pair might attempt an entire album of duets.

Lo also contributes in a rare capacity as a guitarist, playing some funky nylon string chord work on Johnny Nash's I Can See Clearly Now with a Hong Kong band that also features Yoyong Aquino on piano and Sylvain Gagnon on bass, augmented by percussionists Michael Sprio and Steve Staunton.

Gagnon, Sprio and Staunton also turn up with Liu and Lo on Bernie Miller's Bernie's Tune and Cole Porter's So in Love, along with drummer David Hocker, while Hocker, Gagnon and Lo jointly provide the backing for a yearning reading of Blame It on My Youth.

Beware My Foolish Heart was cut with the west coast session stars, but Le Claire overdubbed the guitar solo in Hong Kong. It's hard to bring anything fresh to Gershwin's Summertime, but Lo's electronic keyboard-based arrangement, which features a saxophone obligato interwoven with Liu's vocal, is a less conventional treatment than most.

The songs, Liu says, were chosen simply because she likes them rather than with any thought of how they might sound together on a single disc, and given the shifting cast of musicians and the different studios used to record them it is remarkable that the album sounds as coherent as it does.

The different moods of the pieces provide variety and contrast, but while there is perhaps a little more overt virtuosity in Colaiuta's drumming, the standard of performances across the different lineups is remarkably consistent.

Liu says she nearly didn't release the collection, but she was right to persist with the project. It would have been a waste for the music not to be heard. There is evidence of the growth of the artist between the Sydney and San Francisco vocals.

Liu is already planning her next album, to be recorded at a new studio expected to open shortly in Aberdeen. This time she plans to play guitar as well as sing, and intends to perform some of her own compositions. In the meantime she and Lo are both busy with live performances. She recently returned from Rome where she performed concerts with members of the Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra whom she accompanies this Saturday at the Fringe Club.

Lo recently performed a three-night residency at the same venue, with bassist Peter Scherr and McBride. It's a small world.