NORTHERN STAR LINER NOTES
During an era when there are seemingly a billion so-called jazz singers, Amandah Jantzen stands out from the crowd. Her singing is mature yet youthful, swinging but not predictable, and accessible without being obvious. Amandah has a warm and inviting voice, infectious phrasing and the ability to make listeners feel that she is singing directly to them. Her warmth and musicality are part of her appeal along with an indescribable heartfelt quality that makes her performances both memorable and often quite haunting. Northern Star is her fourth and arguably her finest CD thus far.
Amandah, who is originally from the San Francisco Bay area, has been on an extended tour of Asia since March 2004. It was while she was in Singapore that she recorded Northern Star, just two days before leaving the country. "About two to three weeks before I was scheduled to leave town, I found a great studio but they only had one day available for the session. Since there was so little time, I told everyone that we were going with the 'Ray Brown Old School' of thought: two takes maximum and, if we don't get it, we move on to the next tune. We ended up recording 22 tracks in about 13 hours and it was surprisingly effortless."
For Northern Star, Amandah used her favorite musicians from Singapore. "In sidemen, one of my highest priorities is that I can be relaxed around them, have fun in the session and have no major stresses. I love innovative creative players who don't just come in, sit down and expect to read a chart. I want them to experience the music as I sing and I love it when we are creating the music together, in that moment."
Four different pianists were used on the 13 selections. "Mario Serio is every singer's dream pianist, especially on stage, able to come up with these incredible 'arrangements while you wait.' Weixiang's constant creativity is one of my favorite things about working with him. I don't think he has ever played a song the same way twice; he is so in the moment. Chok, Kerong can be both intense and subtle at the same time; you would never know that he was only 22 at the time of this recording. His youth often brings a freshness to older more popular tunes that he didn't hear on the radio growing up. Mei Sheum's playing is full of finesse and all of the emotion comes through in her playing. She brings a subtle side to the music that is often overlooked without sacrificing quality in the least."
On seven of the numbers, Amandah is also accompanied by bassist Christy Smith while violinist Shu Mei Tan is a strong asset on a sensitive version of Blossom Dearie's "Bye Bye Country Boy." "Christy really came through for me on this gig. We had only jammed together prior to the session, so he wasn't as familiar with my style or my body of work, certainly not some of the obscure songs, yet he handled the tunes as if we'd played together forever. The very first time I heard Shu Mei play, I asked her if she was available to record, even though I hadn't even planned the CD yet. She, too, came through at the last minute with little time to prepare."
Northern Star combines together well-known standards given fresh treatments with a few lesser-known but worthy songs. "Sequined Mermaid Dress," a swinging number with hip lyrics, was written by David Cantor of the group Dave's True Story and, based on Amandah's celebratory version, it deserves to become a standard in the future.
"Michael Franks has always been a favorite of mine. He is a lyrical genius! I liked his 'Lady Wants To Know' so much that it almost became the title track of this CD." Amandah's voice perfectly fits the superior and wise words. "Learning the tune 'Social Call' was inspired by a well known critic's suggestion many years ago and, because it was one of Mario's favorites, we recorded it mostly for fun." Amandah's version balances both the joy of Gigi Gryce's catchy bop theme with the melancholy lyrics of Jon Hendricks. "The Night We Called It A Day" is given a very sensitive treatment with outstanding playing from pianist Weixiang while "All Or Nothing At All" and Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" prove to form a perfect medley, using Amandah's own arrangement.
"Northern Star" is a haunting folk song by Alice Peacock, a musician who Amandah first saw perform the song in Wisconsin in 2003. "Willow Weep For Me," which is often taken too slow, is given a very catchy and danceable groove by Weixiang and bassist Christy Smith which clearly inspires the singer. For "Bye Bye Country Boy" Amandah says, "The addition of the haunting violin adds a deeper sense of sadness and longing of the tune." Like "Social Call," "I'm Just Foolin' Myself" has a carefree melody that contrasts with the lyrics which in this case are self-deprecating. Christy Smith takes a fine solo. "You Don't Know What Love Is" is hotter than expected. Mario Serio gives this version a doubletime samba feel and Amandah sings alternate lyrics written by Cercie Miller.
Of Anthony Newley's "There's No Such Thing As Love," Amandah says "I love this song and it's rarely recorded." It certainly deserves to be much better known. After the saucy "Everything I've Got," Amandah closes the set with "We'll Be Together Again." "This is my ode to Singapore, and the many friends I made while there, both musical and otherwise. I had the time of my life on that tour, and I have made the promise that someday I will return."
Amandah has been singing on stage for over 20 years yet her enthusiasm and creativity continue to grow. In early 2006, she placed second in the 5th Annual Jazzconnect Vocal Jazz Competition, up against jazz singers from around the world. Her highly appealing voice is well showcased on her three previous recordings, Some Other Time, Devil May Care and My Secret Love, and she is also featured on a third of the songs on the Ellen Vanderslice compilation, Once in A Blue Moon, and half of the tunes on The Standard Vanderslice. "Each of my CDs is completely different in some ways although the first three used primarily the same musicians. On Northern Star, I was going for the effect of what we do on stage, using multiple pianists, working a more intimate side of the music with duets and trios instead of using a full band. I think this is a fairly accurate representation of what people heard on any given night walking into the clubs I performed at."
"I am so very grateful to be able to do what I love for a living. How does it get any better than this?" Listeners, who will apply the last sentence to her singing, are grateful to have the opportunity to experience Armandah Jantzen's artistry at its best.
Scott Yanow - Author of 9 jazz books including Jazz On Film, Trumpet Kings, Swing and Jazz On Record 1917-76