By Harvey Siders, March 29, 2010
Whenever a new genre manifests itself, the occasion is significant. In the person of Nelda Swiggett, we have what can be accurately labeled “Polite Jazz.” There’s no better way to describe her approach to the keyboard, or her vocalizing, or her writing. Labels aside, this third album by Swiggett, as a leader, is a stunning project, put together by three imaginative swingers — pianist Swiggett; bassist Chris Symer; and drummer Byron Vannoy — held together by the highly original mind of Ms Swiggett.
Polite jazz, as expressed in all of the tracks, consists of a gentle touch on all three acoustic instruments as well as the vocals, delicate solo work, including the comping — often minimalistic. Above all, it includes the supple harmonies that inform Swiggett’s compositions and improvisations. Her two atypical songs, devoid of bridges — “Walk Beside Me” and “Say In Silence” — are hauntingly beautiful. “Walk” consists of two 16-bar stanzas; “Silence” has four 8-bar lines. They each add up to 32 measures, but minus a release, they sound like art songs. Nelda’s poetic lyrics certainly elevate them to that level. An additional feature of “Silence:” each time the piano or bass plays the melody, it begins with a phrase suggestive of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” It seems like a counter-melody to the sung line. By way of contrast, her third vocal, “Chill,” is entirely wordless, in unison with the improvised line played by her right hand.
Highlights from the instrumental tracks: “For the Love of It” represents the trio in its most straightahead mode; “Heart of the Moment” is the most chromatic, harmonically; “No Tattoo” allows them to romp rhythmically; I believe the time signature is 5/4. The Latin pulse is at its strongest in “Beyond That:” the track sounds like one elaborate montuno, and when Vannoy is busy supplying syncopation, Symer usually resorts to ostinato figures to keep his colleagues bouyant. Symer displays his dual talents in “The Time Being,” laying down the melody from the top, then returning a chorus later with a pizzicato solo. That waltz is one of Swiggett’s loveliest creations — in a memorable collection of polite creativity.