If you have not heard of Adrianne Duncan then do not fret, until I had received her album Gemini, I too was unaware of this young pianist. As with any artist I am unfamiliar with I took to the internet and looked for her website; this is what I found:
Pianist, singer, songwriter, and composer Adrianne Duncan has been making music since the age of six. The daughter of renowned classical guitarist Charles Duncan (author of The Art of Classical Guitar Playing), she honed her classical piano skills through private study, master classes with such luminaries as Murray Perahia, Leon Fleisher, Emanuel Ax and Ruth Laredo, and summers spent at such institutions as Tanglewood and Brevard Music Centers.
Adrianne attended Northwestern University on a music scholarship and is the winner of numerous piano competitions and awards. She has performed in multiple capacities: as a solo artist, in a duo, as an accompanist for individual musicians and musical theatre productions, with chamber groups, in jazz ensembles and as a soloist with symphony orchestra.adrianneduncan.com
So that is a little of her background what of the album?
‘He’s Not Quite You’ is the prediction of a relationship breakdown where Adrianne sings of the comparisons between a current partner and a former love. The tune starts as a ballad with delicate piano accompaniment and matching delicate sound from vibes player Nick Mancini. The bass of Dan Lutz and drumming from Jimmy Branly fill out the overall sound without distilling the central theme of impending loss. It is around the five-minute thirty mark that the tune takes a turn and invokes a Samba feel, which allows the Nick Mancini on vibes to play in a livelier style with the piano now in the supporting role. The drumming too is more dynamic and uplifting. The segue between the two halves of this tune is nicely done with the second half being a recognition that ‘He’s Not Quite You’ and moving on.
‘Elijah’, like the opening track, begins in ballad style with Adrianne singing at the piano. The introduction of Katisse Buckingham on sax lifts the tempo and feel of the number and with John Tegmeyer’s clarinet adding that wonderful warm tone ‘Elijah’ becomes a most interesting tune. As the tune progresses the sax comes more and more into play alongside a driving beat from Jimmy Branly. The tempo is lively without running away with itself leading to a strong finish before a brisk fade out. ‘Gemini’ is the only instrumental track on the album and is a lively groove driven number with the rhythm section providing the theme while the clarinet and flute trade the melodic line over the top. As ‘Gemini’ draws to a close the drums play over an ostinato provided by the woodwind before Nick Mancini on vibraphone gets his chance to add something to the mix.
‘Home at Last’ has an unsettling opening that reflects the sorrowful life of the trophy wife the song is written about. The tempo and mood of this number shift throughout the nine minutes of this track, which meant that I could not settle into the tune and was left constantly wondering where the music would take me: I found ‘Home at Last’ to be pleasantly challenging. The musicianship throughout was assured without losing the sensitivity to make the tune work. I enjoyed the tonal variations, both instrumentally and vocally, that made this the standout track for me.
The album finishes with the only cover: Sting’s ‘Roxane’ (see video below). The vibraphone of Nick Mancini opens the tune with an exploratory prodding of notes. Adrianne then adds her vocals ahead of the introduction of piano, bass, drums, and flute. As with the vibes earlier the flute flicks out notes before the tune eventually opens out with the vibraphone and flute playing in a more fluid style that gathers pace as the moves on. I am always interested as to how an artist approaches another’s work, particularly when the tune is as well known as ‘Roxanne’ is. In this instance I think that Adrianne Duncan has arranged a compelling interpretation of Sting’s original and deserves credit for having done so.
I enjoyed this album, and it will find its way into my collection via Bandcamp. Adrianne’s classical music background is apparent, but it is also clear that she has a good feel for jazz. Her strong lyrical content comes across well and is equally matched by her musical compositions. I look forward to listening to more from this artist and hearing how she develops her future in music.
Musicians: Adrianne Duncan – piano, vocals; Nick Mancini – vibraphone; Dan Lutz – bass; Jimmy Branly – drums; Katisse Buckingham – flute, saxophone; John Tegmeyer – clarinet.
Tracklist: 1. He’s Not Quite You. 2. Elijah. 3.Gemini. 4. Home at Last. 5. Roxanne
All compositions by Adrianne Duncan except “Roxanne” written by Sting.
Arrangements by Adrianne Duncan Produced by Adrianne Duncan