On her stunning new CD The German Projekt, which features jazz-imbued arrangements of classic songs by Brecht-Weill and Friedrich Hollaender and which is being released on May 12, singer Andrea Fultz sounds as if she’d been born to interpret this rich, complex body of music.
But in fact the album concept came to fruition a mere three or four years ago, while she was living and studying in San Francisco and performing with musical colleagues who were interested in exploring Kurt Weill’s songs with her. “The material was really completely new to me,” says the Munich-born Fultz, 34, who has worked with a variety of bands ranging from American Songbook to electronica to bossa nova. “I knew the melodies, but not all the words. The dark Weill stuff was very exciting.”
Joined by violinist Dina Maccabee, accordionist Rob Reich, percussionist Micha Patri, bassist Eugene Warren, and pianist Adam Shulman, whose credits include work with Stefon Harris, Paula West, and Bobby Hutcherson, Fultz began to delve into the songs and arrangements that evolved into The German Projekt. She and her band, augmented by a three-man horn section, will appear at a CD release event at Yoshi’s in Oakland on Monday, May 18.
“The music has to support the lyrics and follow the stories of the songs,” says Rob Reich, in speaking of the challenges of arranging The German Projekt. “And these are often heavy, dramatic stories, full of changes in tempo and harmony, and full of intense emotions. We were fortunate to be working with some very talented jazz musicians. We wanted them to have some room for interpretation and improvisation, so it was important to strike a balance between staying true to the original musical conception and allowing the songs to breathe and grow.”
Although several Weill compositions, such as “Mack the Knife” (aka “Moritat”), “My Ship,” and “September Song,” have become jazz standards, most of his oeuvre remains in the cabaret or art song realm. “Alabama Song,” which opens The German Projekt and is sung in English, was previously recorded by the Doors and David Bowie (whom Fultz calls “my absolute hero!”); Marianne Faithfull and Dee Dee Bridgewater are among the vocalists who’ve recorded more extensive Weill collections.
Sonny Rollins, who counts Friedrich Hollaender among his favorite composers, has recorded “Falling in Love Again” (“Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt”), the theme from The Blue Angel, and frequently performs the song in concert. (Early in his career, Rollins was fond of Hollaender’s “This Is the Moment,” and was playing it the night that Miles Davis first hired him.)
“It is a big thing for me to represent German culture in America,” says Fultz, the daughter of a German mother and American father. “I really think this music is brilliant. Brecht and Weill and Hollaender are so timeless.”
In addition to “Alabama Song,” the CD contains six other Brecht-Weill compositions: “Bilbao Song,” “Denn wie man sich bettet so liegt man,” “Barbara Song,” “Seeräuber Jenny,” “Surabaya Johnny,” and “Mäckie Messer” (“Mack the Knife”). Hollaender is represented by two songs from The Blue Angel (“Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt,” “Kinder, heut Abend da such ich mir was aus”), “Johnny,” and the ballad “Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte.” Fultz sings Hanns Eisler and Bertolt Brecht’s “Song of a German Mother” with Eric Bentley’s English lyrics.
Andrea Fultz is looking to take the German Projekt music to clubs and festivals in the U.S. and abroad. “This music is about the context, it’s not about singing flawlessly or bebopping,” she says. “It’s so different for me to sing in German. It’s given me more freedom than any other music before.”
CD Review, San Francisco Chronicle (05/09)
There are songs that are so enduring it's not always easy to determine "definitive" versions. The music of Kurt Weill, Friedrich Hollaender and Hanns Eisler, for example, has been "owned" by such singers as Lotte Lenya, Teresa Stratas, Marlene Dietrich and Ute Lemper. Yet, for some listeners, including this one, there are always delights when classics such as "Surabaya Johnny," "Alabama Song," "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt (Falling in Love Again)" are given loving treatment by someone like the Bay Area's Andrea Fultz, who brings a jazz sensibility to this music in her infectious CD with the German Projekt, "German Songs From the Twenties & Thirties." Fultz, who performs Monday at Yoshi's in Oakland, does the seemingly impossible with the 12 cuts on the album, making the music sound contemporary as well as very much of the turbulent period in German history from which it came. In addition to her superb vocals, the album benefits from fine ensemble work by accordionist Rob Reich, percussionist Micha Patri, bassist Eugene Warren, pianist Adam Shulman and vocalist Dina Maccabee.
John Sunier (audaud.com) 05/09, 5 Stars
Andrea Fultz - The German Projekt - German Songs from the 20s & 30s - andreafultz.com
A captivating update to mostly Brecht songs from the Weimar Republic period.
Born in Munich and now based in Frankfurt, 34-year-old Andrea Fultz lived and studied for some time in San Francisco, where she became familiar for the very first time with the world of German songs of the 20s and 30s such as the Brecht-Weill collaborations and songs popularized by Marlena Dietrich in The Blue Angel and other films of the period. I was personally introduced to this material by the Berlin Theater Songs LP of Lotte Lenya, Kurt Weill’s widow, and a number of singers over the years have attempted to capture the feel and sound of these hard-edged and mostly cynical songs - in both German and English - among them Marianne Faithfull, Teresa Stratas, and Uta Lemper. None of them had quite the untrained, lived-in voice and unique delivery of Lenya, and most tried to imitate the early-jazz-influenced small ensemble accompaniment of the originals.
Fultz modernizes the songs and her backing group is much jazzier and more contemporary than we’ve heard before on this material. Her German is very good of course and her voice - honed on everything from bossa nova and jazz to the Great American Songbook and electronica - is well-trained and yet not sounding like an operatic diva slumming these tunes. It’s a sexy, flexible and sometimes very dramatic voice but not over the top as some other singers who have delivered these classics.
The opener of the dozen tracks is in English, just as Lenya had to learn it phonetically for Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel in 1927 (because she didn’t speak English at the time). It’s the Alabama Song, sung by Jenny and fellow prostitutes. Most of the rest of the songs are in German, but Fultz tosses in an occasional English translation, such as at the conclusion of Dietrich’s “Falling In Love Again.” That one is one of four of the songs from the pen of the other famous German composer here, Friedrich Hollaender. The second song entirely in English is the very moving anti-fascist “Song of a German Mother” by Brecht and his later composing collaborator, Hans Eisler. Its English translation was made by Eric Bentley, who also once recorded it, but what a difference to hear it sung by a professional and also appropriate female voice!
Fultz should be very proud of her accomplishment on this her self-published disc (which is handled by CDbaby.com). The German Projekt explores some of the dark but fascinating aspects of Germany in the 20s and 30s, and blends the German and American elements in a manner appropriate to Fultz’s background, since she is the product of an American soldier on leave from Vietnam who met her German mother at Munich’s Hofbrauhaus. My only gripe would be that it would have been nice to include English translations of the German songs for those of us not bilingual. (If you would like to see Andrea Fultz in action, she has several videos at the vimeo.com site.)
Alabama Song, Bilbao Song, Johnny, Ich bin von Kopfl bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt, Denn wie man sich bettet so liegt man, Wenn ich mire was wünschen dürfte, Barbara Song, Seeräuber Jenny, Song of a German Mother, Surabaya Johnny, Mackie Messer’s Moritat, Kinder heut Abend da such ich mir was aus.