Monday, May 26, 2014

In Praise of Basia

Basia Trzetrzelewska's music just does something. Something no amount of music theory learnedness can describe. And honestly, I don't think her body of work would hold up under such scrutiny. It's pure emotion, but it's not dumb music.  It's termed jazz-pop. There are drum machines and the sort of brass that one might hear in colorless smooth elevator jazz. But Basia, since her 1987 debut album Time and Tide, has expressed so many emotions simultaneously in her music, at least to this listener. It's a vibrant, eventful, but pleasant ride.

Her songs are mostly common tales of lost love, found love, new love. Songs about perfect mothers and joyous weddings. Familiar themes. There's an ode to Astrud Gilberto on Time, and the influence of Brazilian music is all over that album. I became aware of Basia in the late 80s via a longtime school chum who sung her praises. I did not investigate at that time. About 5 years later, a co-worker made me a tape of Time and its follow-up London Warsaw New York.  I fell in love.

With the Polish singer (whose name is pronounced BA-SHA) herself. And her vocal range, from contralto to soprano. I also found it endearing the way she sang certain lyrics,  revealing that English was not her primary tongue. I liked the European sound of everything. The tunes had genuine heart, and created an unexplainable peace. It is unsurprising that fans have written to Basia to thank her for helping them through tough physical and emotional recoveries, grief.

Some mellow artists rather inspire catatonia, but this music removes anything that may weigh upon you. I have drifted to Basia's tunes the way others may rely upon Valium. But this is a good thing. You know, with no side effects of zombification or erosion of brain or soul.

In the early 90s,  I tended to favor noisier music,  but something about Danny White's keyboards and Peter White's occasional accordion just blended so seamlessly in Basia's compositions. I later also grew to really appreciate 1994's The Sweetest Illusion, a counter-soundtrack to some pretty tumultuous times. It would be her last studio album until 2009's It's That Girl Again, sounding mostly like little time had passed.  That familiar warm voice announcing "She's back...." on the title track, a most welcome return.

Yes, there are a few cheesy moments and outright duds ("Take Him Back Rachel", "I Must") here and there, but resist your inner hipster and just let it flow. You may live longer.

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