Lucia Fodde: Harlem Beats

Using a plugged-in rhythm section and stripped-back arrangements the Berlin-based singer offers an atmospheric update of Ellingtonia

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There is by now a long, long history of reinterpretation of the standard repertoire, including grafting it onto other styles and rhythms, but it’s unlikely anyone has heard Ellington and Ellington-related charts treated quite as Berlin-based singer Lucia Fodde does on this striking album.

Born in Sardinia, Fodde at first pursued pop music, but then she studied jazz at the Conservatorio di Musica in Cagliari. In 2013 she moved to Berlin, appearing across Germany and internationally. Her album debut came in 2012 with Just One Of Those Things, a tribute to Cole Porter. Then came Freedom, launched at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in 2018, and Traces Of You (2022), reviewed here by Wif Stenger.

Fodde comes out of the jazz mainstream (her father’s vinyl jazz collection was an early inspiration) but it seems the pop experience may have opened her mind to novel interpretation. Certainly in this, her fourth album, the use of electric piano, synth and electric bass and the stripping away of chord changes suggests she’s aiming to give Ellingtonia a modern face.

The result is an atmospheric, dreamlike half-hour excursion through familiar but strangely transmuted material. Fodde’s powerful and expressive voice is bathed in electric piano and synth sounds and the changes of the Ellington, Mingus and Strayhorn tunes are craftily disguised or obscured. This approach is seen at its most radical on Mood Indigo, with the bass focusing on a single pedal-note and the piano drawing the sparest outline of the changes. Together with the filigree trumpet work, it reminds of nothing more strongly than Miles Davis’s search for simplicity in both arrangement and harmony. With that largely unvarying bass line, this is pretty much a modal transformation of the tune.

Perhaps lending meaning to the album’s title, other pieces feature backbeats (funk on Heaven and rock ballad on Chelsea Bridge), albeit downtempo. Mellow Tone becomes a mellow modal reflection, the changes again veiled. The Miles impression is reinforced by the relaxed pace throughout the album and the excellent trumpet solos from the Australian Greg Ambroisine (though he plays more bebop than Miles would have).

The highlight is probably the last track, A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, because it best expresses Fodde’s minimalist vision. The bass and drums are gone, her voice hanging limpidly over just the Fender Rhodes, this time following the changes. This gives full space for her vocal expression and for a short trumpet break and wraps up an album that fascinates and often enchants.


Discography
Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love; Mood Indigo; Heaven; Chelsea Bridge; In A Mellow Tone; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing (28.15)
Fodde (v); Greg Ambroisine (t); Davide Incorvaia (p, syn); Francesco Beccaro (b); Aidan Keith Lowe (d). UFO Sound Studios, Berlin, c. 2023.
Timezone Records