A unique sound is a prized stylistic trait among jazz musicians. From the emergence of jazz in New Orleans cornetist Buddy Bolden’s music until now, all the jazz greats have had a sound that expresses their distinct musical personalities. A unique sound is one of the many pleasures of Veronneau, the Washington, DC-area jazz and world music group, which has recently released their fourth album, Love and Surrender.
Part of Veronneau’s sound comes from their string-heavy instrumentation. The core group consists of Lynn Veronneau on vocals; Ken Avis on guitar, vocals and harmonica; David Rosenblatt on guitar; and Bruno Lucini on drums and percussion. On this recording the band adds guest musicians on accordion, acoustic and electric bass, violin, seven-string guitar and kora (a harp-like African instrument). The multitude of stringed instruments proves to be an asset, as the sparse instrumentation lends an open texture to the band’s original compositions and covers of songs from around the globe.
The other part of Veronneau’s sound comes from fine musicianship. Love and Surrender abounds in tasteful solos, interesting arrangements and graceful execution. Ms. Veronneau has an expressive voice, which is well suited to the variety of songs explored here. She sings with minimal adornment, except for a touch of vibrato at the end of held notes, allowing her vocal fullness to stand alone. Her voice is showcased on the title tune, “Love and Surrender,” a ballad written by Avis.
The string and percussion work match the quality of Lynn Veronneau’s voice. Whether providing supportive accompaniment or stepping into the foreground to solo, the band’s instrumentalists play with refinement. The temptation to show off one’s technical prowess, often in evidence among jazz musicians, is nowhere to be found in the tasteful restraint on this recording.
The album includes five original compositions. “Song of Love” features a syncopated ostinato, with vocals layered on top, as well as a lively violin solo by Dave Kline. I found myself humming the catchy phrase long after my listening session ended. The lyrics of “The Road,” sung over a familiar vamp, examine promises lovers make in the throes of passion.They are delivered with conviction. I believe Veronneau when she sings “I’ll be there to kiss away your blues.” On “September Moon,” the lone instrumental of the album, two guitars play hide and seek with the melody. During the coda, Veronneau whistles a counterpoint, adding a touch of whimsy to the pensive mood. The jazziest composition, “Waltz for Youssef,” is a bouncy tune that lends itself to engaging improvisations by guitar and violin. (Unfortunately, the guitar soloist on this and other tracks cannot be identified because the album’s minimal liner notes fail to list solo credits.)The non-original compositions display the wide-ranging musical interests of the group. “Voce Abusou/Fais Comme L’Oiseau” is an expertly performed bossa nova, which is one of the group’s specialties. The group produced a documentary about the birth of the Brazilian genre, Bossa Nova—The Music Which Charmed The World, in 2014, and released an all-Brazilian album, Jazz Samba Project, in 2012. The pretty French folksong “La Javanaise” is sung in French and features guitar and violin solos. The band’s version of “Perfidia” is a reminder of the staying power of a well-crafted melody. Written in 1939 by Alberto Domingo and Milton Leeds, the song was a hit for Xavier Cugat and subsequently recorded by Glenn Miller and many other jazz artists in the 1940s. Two standards, “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and “Moon’s a Harsh Mistress,” show that the band is as comfortable in the American songbook as in the songs of Brazil, France or Mexico.
Considering the band’s cohesive sound and pleasing musicianship, the title of Veronneau’s new album is apt. The music of Love and Surrender is easy to love and surrender to.
Eric Heavner plays trumpet with a number of Baltimore area bands. He has published occasional pieces for the Baltimore Sun and several articles of academic interest.