CD Review: Cormac Kenevey – The Art of Dreaming

CD Review: Cormac Kenevey – The Art of Dreaming

The Art of Dreaming, Candid Records, CCD 79853

Cormac Kenevey has been busy this year: a slew of Irish gigs, a pair of nights at the iconic Ronnie Scott’s Club in Soho, radio and television appearances, and album launches in Dublin, London and Dubai for The Art of Dreaming.

This new CD reminds listeners of why Kenevey’s popularity continues to grow: his polished baritone, the mix of elegant standards and smooth originals, and his impressive vocal control and rapport with his backing musicians. Mining the ever-reliable vein of the American songbook and rising to the challenge of writing his own lyrics to tunes by guitarist Hugh Buckley and others, this second Candid album consolidates the strengths displayed in his 2006 release, This is Living.

Kenevey is at his best when interpreting slow-tempo standards like ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily’ and ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face’ (the latter a beautiful duet with Hugh Buckley). As Dave Liebman has said, when listening to a jazz ballad you listen to what isn’t played, and Kenevey’s phrasing and rhythmic assurance make good use of the space around the notes. In this he is well supported by Buckley and a superb rhythm section – pianist Phil Ware, drummer Kevin Brady and bassist Dave Redmond – who always provide sublime backing, even when, as in ‘The Nearness of You’, the string arrangements get in the way.

‘The Way You Look Tonight’ and Cole Porter’s ‘All Of You’ are handled confidently at quicker-than-usual pace. ‘In the Extraoutosphere’, a nod to Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, thumps along effortlessly with the right balance of cleverness and cool, Kenevey’s lyrics suitably nonsensical. The album’s blues excursions also work well. The only wrong steps on the recording are ‘Moloko Soup’, a misguided pop medley with overused vocal overdubs, and ‘Tír na nÓg’, a Celtic-Twilight hodge-podge of recited images that verge on the pretentious.

As he showed at the Bray Jazz Festival, onstage Kenevey is confident and professional. He handles an audience well and has the talent required to move to the next musical level if he can avoid the pitfalls of the genre – the temptation to be glib, a failure to explore beneath the surface glitter of popular song, a yielding to the genre’s natural conservatism.

It is important that Kenevey now assess carefully his next step as singer and lyricist. Does he follow Kurt Elling by exploring more complex jazz material outside the songbook tradition? Or does he contribute his vocal gifts more democratically: the voice as an equal instrument in a larger ensemble? Norma Winstone’s work with Kenny Wheeler’s band could provide a model for the latter. Either way, Kenevey needs to move beyond the clever and the smooth and sublimate his current persona to the demands of the music. If he can do that, he has what it takes to make a real contribution to the scene.

Published on 1 July 2008

Kevin Stevens is is a Dublin-based novelist and writer on history, literature, and jazz.

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