July 2003

Jeremy Monteiro Trio - A Song for You, Karen
First Impression Music FIMSACD036
Released: 2003

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

When pianist/arranger Jeremy Monteiro told his friend (and F.I.M. head) Winston Ma that he had a good idea for an album, Ma was interested. When he was told that the idea involved doing an album’s worth of songs from the Carpenters in a jazz setting, Ma’s interest took a downward turn -- but his curiosity was piqued. Most people of Monteiro and Ma’s generation, he realized, grew up listening to Karen Carpenter, so the idea itself had musical appeal. Ma’s biggest reservation was doing it as an all-instrumental album. But Monteiro headed that problem off by suggesting he might be able to persuade his good friend Jacintha to sing on a few of the cuts. Now Ma’s interest joined his curiosity. A phone call later and the plans were set. A Song for You, Karen is the result.

I’ll make no bones about it: sonically this is an absolutely stunning album. Engineering maven Jim Anderson has managed to capture nearly every nuance of each instrument. It’s all here, the whole nine yards, from soundstaging to instrumental tone to frequency extension to, well, you name it and you’ll hear it. And wait until you get a load of the vocals. I’ve never heard Jacintha sound better. I could hear how she formed the words as clearly as I could hear the breaths she took to propel those words into the microphone. The sonics from this Hybrid stereo SACD are everything a new format is supposed to deliver -- and more.

The CD layer of this disc contains everything that Redbook can encode, too. If you haven't purchased an SACD player and are not enamored of SACD as a recording format at this point, you can still purchase A Song for You, Karen and get total enjoyment and value out of your listening time. I’d stack the CD layer up against the sonic quality of any of my XRCDs. It’s that good.

But don’t go getting the idea that this is merely another audiophile recording -- you know, all function but no form. Uh-uh. This is highly satisfying music, the kind that will have you hitting the repeat button on your player, well, repeatedly. Ma has artfully sequenced Jacintha’s vocal tracks in among the trio’s instrumentals, varying the pace so the listener doesn’t fall into a zone. It’s a nice touch.

The trio is made up of Monteiro on piano, Paul Martin on double bass, and Tim Davis on drums, and is joined on six of the tracks by Eric Schneider playing either clarinet, tenor or soprano sax. (Check out how Schneider’s clarinet on the cut "On Top of the World" brings Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing to mind.) The vocal duo Two For Brazil (Greg Fishman and Raulinho Garcia) join in to sing "There’s A Kind Of Hush" and add a dash of Latin flavor to the menu.

This is comfort music, the kind you’ll slip into like you do your broken-in deck shoes after a long winter of heavy boots. If you’re over 30, you know the music of the Carpenters inside and out. Monteiro’s arrangements are tastefully done; you’ll never be far from the melody. And yet he’s still managed to find new avenues to explore within these familiar tunes.

As a tribute album, A Song for You, Karen is a winner. But what’s even more impressive is how well this disc works as an expression of Jeremy Monteiro’s artistic vision. His love of these songs is clearly evident. And when you factor in Jim Anderson’s recording, which honors the music with truly superb sound, you get the complete package. Kudos to Winston Ma for having the vision to record and release this album. If the music of the Carpenters is one of your guilty pleasures, don’t miss this disc.