Rebecca Martin & Guillermo Klein – The Upstate Project

Both singer/songwriter/guitarist Rebecca Martin and pianist/vocalist/composer Guillermo Klein have settled in upstate New York; hence the title of their first ever collaboration. I’ve always been a fan of Rebecca’s voice, phrasing, songwriting and playing – her solo projects and her work with Becca Stevens and Gretchen Parlato in the group Tillery still stand out.

Rebecca Martin  Guillermo Klein "The Upstate Project"It seems that Rebecca has found her congenial partner in Guillermo, who has spent a lot of his time in Spain and Argentina before relocating to the US. Both share the same vision and the same concepts, best exemplified in the opening track “Just As Spring”, one of four collaborations of the two artists. I love the short, but effective use of the keys on this particular track. Rebecca has put words to Brad Mehldau‘s “Ode”, a beautiful composition in its original form, and put to even higher levels with her lyric and singing – the track is renamed as “To Make The Most Of Today”. Simply beautiful. A little masterpiece.

Rebecca gets political on “On A Sunday Morning”, another extremely haunting and wonderful piece where she is also taking care of the backing vocals and her smoky and a bit raspy voice is in full effect. Guillermo is back with his singing on “Thrones And Believers”, a song that reminds me of some early 70s Buckingham/Nicks stuff in its mood and approach and style. Needless to say that both Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums are a strong force to rely upon. Guillermo’s part here is a bit darker and melancholy, but it’s the combination of both which makes it all so special. We also get a tune by Ron Sexsmith which Rebecca wrote with him called “Later On They’ll Know” about racism and its effects on the generations. The haunting and disturbing key parts here simply strengthen the dark and moody atmosphere.

The shortest cut is a song written together with Jesse Harris and Frank Tedesso called “When Things Like These Go Wrong”, another poignant and heart-warming tune that just leaves me taken aback. Kurt Rosenwinkel‘s tune “Cycle 5” turns into “Freedom Run”, another politically engaged tune about the bombings in Palestine – the repetitive effects here are so evocative and inducing that they make the somewhat quirky and complicated tune so fascinatingly touching. It’s the esthetically most captivating and ambitious piece I think. Guillermo’s voice is back for “Like Every Other Day”, another Martin/Klein collaboration where the beauty of the structure just hits you late in the song which is a highly sympathetic treat I think. It’s especially rewarding to discover things like this not always at first listen.

I can’t praise them enough it seems but there is another very strong piece they both worked on together: “Outside It Rains For Them” is sheer beauty and class. Larry Grenadier‘s composition “State Of The Union” is turned into “In The Nick Of Time” with Rebecca’s insightful and well-thought-out lyrics and the pillowy use of the keys by Guillermo. And Larry gets his share as a soloist here as well. Another pretty intricate and very effective piece of art. Bill Frisell‘s “Throughout” has new lyrics by Rebecca who calls it “Hold On” – another masterful transformation. Eerie. Gorgeous and breathtakingly beautiful.

Rebecca’s own “To Up And Go” puts a final brawny mark on this superb set which is a brilliant example how fancy, intelligent, tricky and seductive good pop songs should sound like today. And there are 12 of them here.

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