Release Date: November 6, 2020
Label: BaldHill Records
As accomplished composers and leaders in their own right, vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles and pianist Jarrett Cherner bring a wealth of artistic resources to their first release as a duo, Tone. The album’s eight songs — finely wrought, emotive, richly melodic — were co-written over a span of four years, and although Charles and Cherner began recording before the Covid-19 crisis, they were finally able to finish the project in quarantine in their Brooklyn home. Fittingly, the sound of this duo is intimate and warm, yet its dynamic range is large. Cherner’s expansive piano harmonies, Charles’ intricate multi-tracked vocal parts and subtly placed echoes and effects: these elements grow to fill the sonic space, as the songs touch on transcendent themes of selfless love and living with purpose and intention.
The process brought Charles and Cherner to new creative places within themselves. “We leaned on our respective strengths in terms of harmony, melody, and lyric writing,” says Cherner, “but we also experimented with reversing roles, where I would sing and Sarah would play piano, just to see what that would generate.” The song “Speak,” Charles notes, came about as a result of such a role reversal. “At first we explored with no agenda,” she adds, “making sounds and seeing what came out instinctively.”
While original lyrics predominate, “Speak” is almost entirely wordless, though the song was first inspired by poet Mary Oliver’s idea of prayer taking the most simple, humble form: “Oliver grounds the meaning of praying in allowing another voice to speak,” Charles says, “and specifies that this act can happen anywhere and in any way.” Similarly, Cherner read Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and wove it into what became “Hanging On To Time,” its yearning minor-key lyricism evocative of “wishing you could slow down time to savor a moment or even a season.”
Charles’ looped vocal ostinatos form the 5/4 backbone of “Gloria,” dedicated to the feminine spirit that exists in all of us, and “Shine On,” a contemporary blues with a bridge and a soli that Cherner explains as a song of “personal empowerment and growth.” “We’re both coming from the jazz tradition, the Black American Music tradition,” Charles says, “so improvising has brought so much to our creative process. During this time in quarantine, we’ve used the studio as a space where I can improvise vocal parts on the spot, layer and explore, while also taking time to write more composed background vocals. It’s an approach that we’ve taken to both writing and recording that feels rooted in the tradition we’re coming from.”
If Tone has a central message, it is perhaps the repeated phrase “love the world” that occurs at the end of the contemplative opening track, “Conscious Mind.” Charles and Cherner did not set out originally with a theme in mind, but the subject of love, in the broadest senses of the word, seemed to emerge. “Much like the tradition of metta meditation in Buddhism, you start by practicing being kind to and loving yourself,” Cherner says, “but as you develop that heart muscle, you expand outward: you cultivate loving-kindness for your friends and family, for your acquaintances, for difficult people in your life, and eventually for all beings.” In its way, the music of Tone reflects this: it looks inward and outward all at once, capturing Charles and Cherner’s individual artistic voices even as it brings about something new and whole on its own terms.
MORE ABOUT THE ARTISTS:
In addition to her “soulfully articulate” (The New York Times) recordings with SCOPE (the acclaimed Red, Inner Dialogue and Free of Form), Sarah Elizabeth Charles performs and collaborates with Yacine Boulares’ world-jazz collective Ajoyo, piano legend George Cables, visionary trumpeter and composer Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, keyboard master/producer Jesse Fischer (on Fischer’s latest release Resilience) and more. She had a commissioned composition performed at The National Gallery via The Canales Project’s “Hear Her Song” theater initiative. She is also an accomplished educator, as a participant in Carnegie Hall’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility and Future Music Project youth workshops; as developer of an early childhood music education program with the Haiti-based nonprofit Rise2Shine; and as an adjunct professor teaching her self-designed Jazz and Gender course at The New School.
Jarrett Cherner has captivated listeners with his lyricism and technical facility on his trio releases Burgeoning and Expanding Heart, both on his own label BaldHill Records. As a driving force behind the collective quintet Sketches (sketchesmusic.com) he also released Sketches Volume One (BaldHill) and Volume Two (Brooklyn Jazz Underground). At New England Conservatory he studied with Danilo Pérez, Jerry Bergonzi, Frank Carlberg and Michael Cain, among others, and during graduate studies at Manhattan School of Music he studied with Jason Moran, Garry Dial and Dr. J. Mark Stambaugh. An adjunct professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, Cherner also teaches through the New York Jazz Academy.
THE JAZZ PAGE
This is truly a beautiful, poetic and reflective work that feels much needed in these times. Read this review here.
As an aspiring jazz singer, the teenage Sarah Elizabeth Charles wanted to be Sarah Vaughan. But after writing a lot of tunes that she imagined Vaughan might have sung, the Massachusetts native sensed that the music was not a fully authentic expression of her artistic self. She needed to reassess her goals. And she did so when she moved to New York and enrolled at The New School. Read this feature here.
LA HABITACIÓN DEL JAZZ
"Sarah posee ese don del que pocas vocalistas pueden presumir. Sabe transmitir emociones. Su timbre, su forma de iniciar y de terminar las frases, enamora." Para leer más presione aquí.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"The music is fresh, unique and compelling. Like the theme of this column, it makes me optimistic." Read more here.
TRAVIS ROGERS JR
THE SENTINEL AND RURAL NEWS
"Tone is the inevitable evolution of the talents, skills, and hearts of Sarah Elizabeth Charles and Jarrett Cherner. Like lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids combing to make life, these two amazing artists have created something unique that the world has awaited since the beginning. It’s that good." Read more here.
"I find a quiet urgency in Charles’s vocals and a beautiful synergy with Cherner’s piano. It’s an intimate album that has grown on me and I keep uncovering new beauty with every listen." Full piece here.
One of 10 Albums You Need To Know: "Partly recorded in their Brooklyn home, it is intimate and warm and features an all-original program exploring themes of selfless love and living with purpose via eight tracks written over a period of four years." Read more here.
Sarah Elizabeth Charles and Jarrett Cherner have released their first album as a duo, Tone. Read more here.
Sarah Elizabeth Charles Moves Through Generations Of Sound. Read the full feature interview here.
"Delicate-voiced Sarah Elizabeth Charles teams with lyrical pianist Jarrett Cherner for a collection of indie sounding duets, mixing bohemian jazz poetry with modern folk... Cherner is a master of setting moods and pace." Review here.
"At the microphone, a singer with a diaphanous tone of voice and sophisticated phrases all of soulful inflection. At the piano, a subtle accompanist with a delicate touch and a rich harmonic palette." Read the full review in the Dec/Jan 2020/21 issue of Jazz Magazine.
"... a proverbial Balm in Gilead for a society plagued with uncertainty. With lyrics that promote loving kindness of self and others, the project endeavors to reset the tone of what has been a challenging time for so many of us." Read more here.
THE JAZZ PAGE
"The interplay between the two on this production is outstanding and the material incredibly refreshing. This is truly a beautiful, poetic and reflective work that feels much needed in these times." Read the review here.