- Shall I Compare Thee?
- Home Thoughts, From Abroad
- Aurian Wood
- Laughing Song
- Forgotten Love
- Everybody's Song But My Own
- Oumara's Wish
- Shades of the Orange Leaves
- No Stronger Than A Flower
- November 1918
- Webster's Mood
Netta Robinson (vocals); Tony Woods (reeds): Michael Garrick (piano): Matt Ridley (bass); Chris Nickolls (drums)
Recorded September 2011, Clown's Pocket Studios, London [65:55]
There's always poignancy when one listens to the last recording of a musician. Such is the feeling when one listens to Michael Garrick's final (one supposes) disc, with his Lyric Ensemble, a collection of poems set to music by this inimitable figure whose recent death ended a composing and performing career of huge distinction.
It's inevitable that the vocalist one most associates with Garrick, as his musical conduit, is Norma Winstone. But here we have Nette Robinson, pure voiced, centre of the note, and clearly fully attuned to Garrick's lyric and poetic sensitivities. The repertoire varies; Shakespeare sonnets, Browning, Blake, some ancient Asian poetry, and Garrick himself. The directness of communion is reflected by the smallness of the band - just Garrick at the piano, bass and drums with Tony Woods playing reeds and Robinson singing.
That said, and sentiment apart, this is only a partial success.
The voice and piano performance of Shakespeare's Shall I Compare Thee? is, I regret, anodyne despite the long piano postlude before the repeat. No Stronger Than A Flower similarly leaves little real trace, little indication that there has been any real exchange between the sonnet and its translation into musical terms. He does very little with Browning's Home Thoughts, from Abroad - allowing the lyric to seep without any sentient moulding, and without any memorable melodic sensibility.
This is all downbeat, so when we move to his own lyrics and some others, things markedly improve. Aurian Wood, significantly, was written by Garrick to a pre-existing tune. Structure clearly fashioned the flow and fall of the lyric written specially for Robinson. It is thus atmospheric with plenty of incident and colourful shading. The clarinet and piano solos are both exemplary; things are tautly but poetically accomplished. The Blake song is a scherzo like affair and full of wily wit whereas Garrick's elliptical, lyric Forgotten Love rightly forces one to think. Everybody's Song But My Own, which has long since become Kenny Wheeler's is similarly charged and Garrick's lyric follows his already written tune positively and clearly. No clutter or formlessness here. In the two Asian settings one feels Garrick responding more creatively still to the words. The setting is thus sharper, more pointed, more memorable. Is that a Grieg quotation in his piano solo? Shade of the Orange Leaves is frankly sensual - and the flute evokes its own precise sound world. Similarly drum brushes and basset horn are on hand for November 1918, another Garrick poem, and impressively done. By the final track, Webster's Mood, a straight ahead 12 bar blues swinger (significantly again, to a pre-existing tune) things have improved exponentially. There's even some nice `breathing' … la Ben Webster to end.
If only the Shakespeare and Browning poems had been omitted and more Garrick originals included this album would, I am sure, have been much stronger. As it is, it's uneven. But there are at least seven strong or very strong tracks out of twelve. That's not a bad average, and not a bad envoi.