Listen To A Stranger

Karen Vrijburg

This album should be taken at its word. So far only insiders have heard of Karen Vrijburg. This will certainly change with her debut album “Listen to a Stranger”. The Dutch Jazz singer and composer invites her listeners on a journey of musical adventure. Take up the invitation and you will discover a great deal: an intuitive, versatile voice, profound lyrics and first class arrangements, which make for effortless listening…

Some good things need time. “Listen to a Stranger” began with a deadline. “In the last few years I wrote some songs, but held back from publishing them,” remembers Vrijburg, “ – until I showed them to the pianist Dirk Balthaus. From that moment on everything went really fast – and my project took on new and exciting dimensions.”

Vrijburg had only considered using small groups for the recording but Dirk Balthaus – in the international Jazz scene a highly regarded pianist and arranger – saw much more potential in her compositions. He encouraged her to write more pieces, and then took up pen and paper himself and contributed five string arrangements. Now there was no going back. These written compositions had to be recorded – as soon as possible – in the studio.

Eventually there were eleven songs: seven by Vrijburg – and four standards that sounded quite different to the originals. The members of Zapp4 contributed to this. The Dutch string quartet players are masterful in combining groove, improvisation and fantasy with passionate solos. The Italian bassist Marco Zenini, the Argentinean saxophonist Natalio Sued and the Dutch drummer Etienne Nillesen joined the recordings as special guests.

It is simply a dream cast for an exceptional album. “Fresh music with a certain complexity and an emotional core,” is how Vrijburg describes the tracks on Listen to a Stranger. The trained psychologist is well versed in emotions and feelings – and the function of language. “Beware the careless, slippery nature of words,“ she warns in the opener All Was New. “It is a plea directed mainly at our politicians, who with their waxy words often awake false hopes in voters,” explains Vrijburg. And it is much the same with love as well, where it also comes down in the end to deeds, not words.

The other pieces also tackle profound feelings – the pleasant side of life as in You. Its continuous, buoyant drumbeat invites lovers to dance, but also recalls the many trials and challenges that life offers.

When She Goes was written by Vrijburg from the perspective of a three time mother. Her 18 year old daughter has just left home. “Actually the most normal thing in the world but for many parents nonetheless a huge adjustment, because it is hard for them to let go,” says Vrijburg of the feelings that she experienced and then transferred to music. Following a melancholic string introduction the beat alternates between 5/4 and 3/4. The constant change and the shifting stress symbolise a young bird that has just flown the nest. At first its flight is insecure, but with time its movements are smoother and more certain until finally – almost dancing – it flies high and elegant in the sky.

In Rhythm and Rhyme the musical composition also corresponds to the drama of the story told. Two people with different characters at first feel strongly attracted to each other. As the protagonists discover that their love has no future, the character of the composition changes – from a tender ballad to a slow dance, which threatens at any moment to break out of its harmonic equilibrium.

After the release of the album, Karen Vrijburg was determined to fulfil her long nurtured wish to present the material to an audience. She can much better show her great strength, that of voice improvisation, live – rather than in the more restrictive studio. She has years of experience singing in a Jazz trio in which she could develop her own style. “Whenever possible I distance myself from the original and sing feely,” she explains. When Karen Vrijburg takes to the microphone, many listeners are reminded of the warm contralto voice of the Jazz diva – Abbey Lincoln.

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