By Marilyn Lester
If the coronavirus pandemic has underscored one thing artistically, it’s that CDs have become a lifeline to those starved for stability in the arts. There’s been a steady supply of them, in a familiar format––one unscathed by the lack of live performance. CDs, of course, are chiefly studio-recorded without an audience. The results are what we expect and that’s just fine. Live-streaming is a boon, to be sure, but when an audience is missing, performance is just not the same. As an exception to the rule, actress-singer Luba Mason’s new album release, Triangle, was produced live at Power Station recording studio before a small, invited audience. So, to hear applause mastered into the final product adds a bonus layer to the CD and evokes nostalgia for the good old days when being part of an audience wasn’t actually life-threating. Some day in the future, that aspect of the recording will be forgotten, yet Triangle will remain standing as a significant album, created by a remarkable, top-flight artist.
Mason has worked at crafting her own signature approach to her repertoire. She’s as adept at singing pop and Broadway numbers as she is in swinging jazz. The result of her several capabilities is an eclectic embrace of her music, with arrangements that are also creative and sometimes completely unique. Triangle is no exception. The ten tracks offer a lot of variety, while still maintaining an important cohesion through the instrumentation and Mason’s own consistently on-point interpretation of her material. The musicians number mainly two, and the duo forms a solid platform upon which Mason, in stunningly clear, crystalline and youthful voicings, builds her musical case. Pianists need not apply, for front and center is master vibraphonist, Joe Locke, whose solos are liberally sprinkled into each track. Prominent bass lines are created by James Genus, who also takes up the tuba for the first cut on the album, the quirky, playful “”Bach, Stevie Wonder, and Janette Monae” (Sxip Shirey).
There’s a flavor of international beats and rhythms to Triangle. Like the first track, the second, “Haled’s Song About Love,” from David Yazbeck and the Broadway musical The Band’s Visit is reminiscent of the kind of sound produced in Brazil in the heyday of Tropicalia and Carlos Antonio (Tom) Jobim. Percussion is added on this number via Columbian virtuoso, Samuel Torres. Torres also plays on Jobim’s exquisite ode to life, “Waters of Life,” which Mason masters with ease. Her clarity and precise phrasing plays trippingly over the iterations of the lyric like the dancing flow of a streaming brook. Torres makes a third appearance on Lennon-McCartney’s “Ticket to Ride,” which also has a loosely Brazilian tone, and which Mason delivers as a slow, sultry statement of love’s disappointment. Truly international are two numbers. One sung in both Slovak (her heritage) and English, “Cersne”(Cherries) is a duet with Locke. In Spanish, Mason sings the bolero “Inolvidable” “(Unforgettable). Without necessarily understanding words, the listener will be deeply affected by the mood carefully created and conveyed in each.
One of the most rewarding numbers on Triangle is the dependable jazz classic “In Walked Bud,” pianist Thelonious Monk’s tribute to friend and fellow keyboard master, Bud Powell. The tune is a contrafact of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” featuring plenty of swing and playful syncopations. Equally playful and characteristically clever are Jon Hendrick’s lyrics, which call out the names of some of the great jazz players of the day. Mason and crew have a tremendous lot of fun with the number, and listeners will too. Fun is the byword for the album’s last track, Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” with Mason in total possession of the tune. Her direct storytelling creates a rising arc of good advice and confidence till its joyful conclusion of happy liberation. By the end of these ten tracks of Triangle, it’s clear Mason is gloriously in control of her own musical destiny. She excels at making every number her own––a pinnacle of success that many aspire to but may never achieve.
Triangle on Blue Canoe Records is available on Amazon, iTunes, Apple Music and all streaming platforms. For more information and to order, go to www.bluecanoerecords.com/triangle