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Don’t Touch My Animals

ACT 9711-2 [51:20]


My Animals [3:54]
Aufm Dorf Und Inner Stadt [3:46]
Walking [3:31]
Deutsch [4:04]
Do the Rumba [3:22]
Mann und Mann [4:19]
Just A Little Me [3:35]
Waiting For You [2:55]
Being Lonely [3:24]
Be My Toy, Be My Joy [3:57]
Matthew [3:40]
Im Winter [3:12]
Apple Pie Queen [3:55]
Watersong [3:34]
Michael Schiefel (vocals)
Rec. March 2006, Traumton Studio, Berlin.

Michael Schiefel has something of a cult following in his native Germany – and has also toured abroad quite extensively, often under the aegis of the Goethe Institute. Born in Münster in 1970, he has been working as a professional singer since the early 1990s. In 2001 he was made Professor of Vocal Jazz at the Franz Liszt Conservatory in Weimar. He sometimes works in relatively orthodox jazz settings, but he has attracted most attention with his solo albums, such as Invisible Loop (1997; Traumton CD 4426) and I Don’t Belong (2000;Traumton CD 4433). With reference to both these earlier CDs – and to the one now under review – ‘solo’ means just that; no other musicians are involved.

Schiefel has a voice of extraordinary range and tonal variety; he can be convincing in both the soprano and baritone ranges; his voice has more than once been described as androgynous and certainly there are times when, without knowing otherwise, one would assume that the voice heard belonged to a woman. On this CD his voice is fed through a loop machine and subjected to other kinds of electronic manipulation, with the use of flangers, octavers, echo machines etc.; what sounds like an instrumental accompaniment is all vocally produced.

The results are decidedly odd – and intriguing. There is layer upon layer of sound, though with a solo voice foregrounded most of the time. Even if there are sometimes echoes of other vocalists, and even if one is tempted to make comparisons with Bobby McFerrin, for the most part Schiefel is a true original.

Judgement of jazz singers is peculiarly subjective (more than is generally the case with instrumentalists). Indeed, even a basic attempt to define the species of jazz vocalist, or to circumscribe the act of jazz singing, is an exercise fraught with serious difficulties. I’d guess that not all that Schiefel does on this CD would fall within most definitions of jazz singing. But perhaps that isn’t of any great significance. More important is the question of how satisfying one finds what he does, whatever one calls it. For my tastes, his work here is too often lacking in real emotional content. There’s a cleverness and knowingness, almost an excess of sophistication, which somehow acts largely – and probably not deliberately – to draw attention to the virtuosity of the how and away from the what of the singing. No doubt I am all too likely to make such a judgement because several of the tracks are sung in German (no texts and translations are provided), and I can make only limited sense of them. But even when I do understand the English words of the other tracks, my reaction is much the same. It is as if Schiefel is inhibitingly aware of how clever, how virtuosic, his work is. Vocally there is a kind of self-admiring (I don’t accuse Schiefel of the same fault in terms of personality) which approaches archness, and which limits the impact of his work.

For all my reservations, there is much to enjoy here, both in terms of Schiefel’s dazzling vocal technique and in terms of the moments of tenderness and brashness, of inventiveness and humour, which characterise his very considerable talent. There is much that is striking, and the CD certainly deserves a hearing. Given the notorious subjectivity of taste where jazz vocalists are concerned (after all, there are those who prefer Dinah Washington to Billie Holiday), other listeners may not share my qualms.

Glyn Pursglove

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