When people mention “jazz” to today’s listeners, they will probably think about alternative monoliths like Kamasi Washington, or Colin Stetson. People who were young in the 90s will go as far as recalling the Detroit scene, Tortoise, Sea and Cake, and so on.
Snowpoet is a project that probably entails a stronger affinity to the folk/songwriting scene, that has nowadays almost liquefied into a non-too-descript ensemble of styles and arrangement choices. Still, there is both a fascination and repulsion of the average alternative folk listener towards jazz, that Snowpoet helps mitigate in its own way. Of course, Lauren Kinsella and Chris Hyson are far from being jazz newcomers, as well as the plethora of collaborators in Thought You Knew. But this is an album that opposes clichés in every possible direction, creating the exact conditions for listeners of any kind to appreciate it.
With respect to their debut album, Thought You Knew is a much sparser record – in a way that does not evoke simplicity, but intensity and focus. “Snow”, a cover of a song by Emiliana Torrini, represents the success of this sharpened expressivity, with its quasi-trip-hop syncopations and glitches.
There is a liquid substance to the most lyrical songs (‘The Therapist’, ‘Water Baby’) that reminds of another “jazzy” chamber-folk record of these last years, ‘Water Dreams’ by Robin Bacior. Lauren’s voice is not hackneyed in this record: sometimes it is absent (‘Under the Tree’, ‘Two of Cups’), sometimes it does little more than speaking (‘It’s Already Better Than Ok’, which is still, probably, her best performance in the record) – among more conventional tracks, of course (the a-cappella in “Dear Someone”, Gillian Welch’s cover, the Joni Mitchell number in ‘Another Step’). But the general impression is one of great depth and inspiration.
There is a certain unbalance between longer, more arranged songs (‘Love Again’, ‘Pixel’, and so on) and quite a number of shorter, more confined tracks, which is always a dangerous feature as it can induce a kind of biased feeling towards the record. But it is also true that each listen of this record leaves one with feeling of having overlooked something, and wanting to get back to it as soon as possible. Needless to say, this is one of the key characteristics of important, long-lasting records.
Words: Lorenzo Righetto (Twitter)