Thursday, March 5, 2020

Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion - Chameleon

Naturally, Chameleon isn’t just a reference to the rather snazzy cover art on the latest album by Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion, which features the rather boho chic Ms Schwarz in several differently coloured action poses.  It's also a metaphor for the eclectic nature of the material on the album – some of which, frankly, has me scratching my head.
But let’s begin at the end – in fact beyond the end, with a hidden track which may or may not be called ‘Lover Man’, and to my mind is right in their wheelhouse.  It’s a well smoochy affair, on which one could almost imagine Schwarz draping herself over a piano like Michelle
Zoe Schwarz - Grace Slick for the 21st Century?
Pic by Gordon Maxwell
Pfeiffer in the Fabulous Baker Boys as she delivers an at times breathy vocal.  Well, maybe.  Anyway, with guitarist Rob Koral adding a warm and jazzy guitar solo, they feel right at home.
But other highlights take quite different forms.  There’s the reggae-fied ‘I Hope I See The Day’ for example, an appealingly carefree tune with a positive lyric about hoping for a better day and more tolerance, and a slight but enjoyable exchange between Koral’s guitar and Wurly piano from Pete Whittaker.  And the swinging blues shuffle of ‘Give Me The Key To Your Heart’, on which they establish a good groove with some tooting horn support, to which Koral adds a zinging solo and Whittaker this time gets to work on Hammond organ.
They conjure up a late Sixties Jefferson Airplane-type vibe on the mid-paced ‘Better Days’ – not as psychedelic as ‘White Rabbit’, but certainly reminiscent of ‘Somebody To Love’, as Schwarz’s shift towards a more gritty vocal evokes Grace Slick.  It’s got a nice bass line, courtesy of Whittaker (the Blue Commotion don’t include a bassist), and a cool descending riff too, augmented by the horns, which could be properly gutsy if they really tried.  But they seem to fight shy of getting really raunchy, even when cook up a bit of a stomp on the similarly Airplane-ish ‘Amazon Woman’, with its stuttering riff and and gritty guitar solo.  And they evoke a different Sixties mood with the Latin rhythm, and hints of Carlos Santana in Koral’s solo, on ‘If Only I Could Be With You’, though I can’t say that Whittaker’s organ solo adds much to the equation for me.
I’m not so taken with their penchant for middle of the road ballads though, such as ‘Hello Old Friend’ and the overlong ‘I’ll Be Here For You’.  Both of these feature some Procol Harum-like churchy organ, and there’s a nicely delivered yearning vocal from Schwarz on the latter, but (showing my age) if I were to be unkind I’d say the former reminds me of the sort of thing Petula Clark would have emoted over on some TV variety show back in the day. ‘Tell Me’ is rather better – it may also evoke a Sixties chanteuse mood, but it’s a sweet tune with a well-suited, fluid solo from Koral.  But while Schwarz essays a slinky vocal on ‘I Cry Just To Think Of It’, it’s a pretty stolid, inconsequential affair that for me lacks suppleness.
As I said at the start, I find Chameleon a puzzle at times.  There are some good moments, but I have the feeling – I could be wrong – that at heart Zoe and chums are jazz musos.  If they were to cut loose a bit more, stick the needle into the red zone and show some passion, I might be a happier bunny.  Different strokes for different folks, eh?

Chameleon is released by 33 Records Presents on 3 April.

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