Swiss jazz quartet Catmosphere formed in 2017, but has only now released its sparkling debut album. The band is fronted by vocalist Cathryn Lehmann, who released her solo debut album Becoming Me in 2011 in collaboration with musician, composer and arranger Robbie Caruso. This was followed in 2015 by Waves with guitarist and life partner Thom Thut, and she has also worked with Swiss jazz pianist Philippe Kuhn.
Lehmann is joined here by classical/jazz pianist Gregor Loepfe, bass player Chris Frey from 1990s Australian alternative metal band Full Scale, and drummer Peter Preibisch (Five On Fire, Peter’s Playstation, Stefan Pavelka Trio). Guests include Lukas Thoeni (Swiss Jazz Orchestra, Jenny, This Is Pan) and Christoph Grab (Ray Anderson, Benny Golson, Frank Moebus, and his own Blossom, Reflections and Root Area).
Recorded at Winterthur’s Hardstudios, Smiles And Tears is described by the band as “attractive, colourful, rhythmically concise pop jazz”, with nods to Jamie Callum, Viktoria Tolstoy, Dianne Reeves, Esperanza Spalding and Gregory Porter, and that’s a pretty accurate description. The opening Smile And Rise features smooth keyboards and energetic drums, as Lehmann sings sweetly of new love, while That Smile is a slower, heartfelt dedication to someone close featuring laid-back piano and escalating vocals towards the end. Eternal Dream once again features Preibisch’s rambunctious skins and some nice interplay between Grab’s mellow sax and Thoeni’s trumpet before shining a light on Loepfe’s smart piano stylings. The horn pairing also works well on Like An Orphan.
The contemplative Waves opens on pretty piano runs before giving way to solid, underscoring bass lines and mellow horn fills, as the singer’s delicate vocal references Joni Mitchell, while You And I, a jaunty study in love and commitment, opens on rumbling bass and an urban twin-horn sound, with Thoeni soaring on trumpet later. The set closes with a bright arrangement of Nik Kershaw’s Wouldn’t It be Good (the album’s only cover) featuring Loepfe’s deft piano, which once again acts as a foil for Grab, and Lehmann’s occasionally discordant vocal.
The pop-jazz analogy works perfectly: a collection of brief, articulate musical statements, composed, arranged and sung in the popular style, decorated with fine instrumental jazz passages and the occasional shot of funk. Lehmann’s English vocals are by turns fragile and authoritative, delivering a tight, competently performed offering for modern audiences tuned to both jazz and the broader spectrum. In popular parlance – it’s great.
Smile And Rise; That Smile; Eternal Dream; Another Last Night; Like An Orphan; It’s Blue; So Sad; Waves; Little Bird Fly; Make Me Whole; You And I; My Own Truth; Wouldn’t It Be Good (64.49)
Cathryn Lehmann (v); Gregor Loepfe (p, elp); Chris Frey (b); Peter Preibisch (d, pc); Lukas Thoeni (t, flh); Christoph Grab (s). Winterthur, Switzerland, 2021.