Regular readers of my reviews have probably noticed that at times I can be a little picky when it comes to reviewing vocal albums. Recently I’ve had quite a few new vocal jazz releases hit my desk however, regrettably, not that many actually peaked my interest. That is until the latest album titled “Awake” from Bosnian-Slovenian vocalist Mirna Bogdanovic arrived.
First of all, a little background, Bogdanovic’s family was forced to flee there home during the Bosnian war in the early 1990’s settling in the German capital, Berlin. After completing her studies at the Jazz Institute Berlin, Mirna is now firmly established on the Berlin scene and know as an emotive songwriter, vocalist and performer. The press release for the album stated that she was “Raised with her father’s taste in Balkan rock, she played classical piano as a child and student, before diving deep into the world of jazz…” and perhaps this goes someway toward explaining the diverse sound palette that you find on this album.
As the child of a family forced to flee war, Mirna had already faced more hardship than most and having split up with her partner in 2019, the melancholic, poetic lyrics in ‘Awake’ deal with the complex sea of emotions Bogdanovic has since had to navigate.
There’s no doubt that there is a solid jazz backbone running through this album however musically there’s so much more going on here. The core of the album features her live band comprised of Peter Meyer on the guitar, Povel Widestrand on piano, Felix Henkelhausen on bass and Philip Dornbusch on drums. Adding to line up on the recording are guest musicians Asger Nissen on alto saxophone, Paul Santner on Ukulele and the Rothko String Quartet. Also worth mentioning is the contribution of the album’s producer Chris Hyson, who obviously played a central roll in tying this eclectic collection of compositions and complex arrangements together.
The album presents 11 tracks, all written and arranged by Bogdanovic, with the exception of “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” that was originally recorded by Soul and R&B vocalist, Angie Stone on her second studio album, Mahogany Soul (2001). In addition, arrangement credits also go the Bogdanovic, except for the one cover mentioned earlier, where co-arranger credit goes to Bogdanovic and pianist, Povel Widestrand. Thematically, the subject matter of the material is clearly personal to Bogdanovic and this is evident throughout the material and reflected in the poetic and highly poignant lyrics. When you combine this with the exceptional use tension and release within the arrangements, the emotional impact of the album is quite remarkable.
From a pure musical perspective, the album is stylistically inline with her debut album “Confrontation” that earned her the “Deutscher Jazzpreis” for Debut Album of the Year in 2020. While both albums feature a rich texture within their soundscape, the addition of the string quartet brings an additional level of depth to the arrangements on “Awake” that I greatly enjoyed.
The albums opening track “I Love” works in away as a overture for the album setting the scene without giving away what’s about to come, yet from lyrical perspective it’s immediately clear that this album is an emotional statement and autobiographical. the following track “Only Child” is rhythmically very engaging and the use of a unisono exposition heightens the impact. I really enjoyed Povel Widestrand’s piano solo on this track that floats beautifully over the engaging feel laid down in the rhythm section.
The press release explains that, ‘Clocks’ deals with her sense of existential crisis, and the feeling that time is passing her by. The title is very apt and the 6/8 feel in the first part of the track adds to the feeling of a pendulum swinging like a “Sword of Damocles”. The central interlude builds to an almost unbearable sense of tension that is finally released by the string quartet. I found this to be one of the highlight tracks on the album.
Further highlights in the set include the albums only cover “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” and the instrumental “May” that Bogdanovic states references her time as a classical pianist. “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” was a hit on the R&B charts around the turn of the centaury (It still sounds weird writing that) yet Bogdanovic’s version takes it down a different path, couching the track in a more hypnotic ethereal setting. Asger Nissen’s solo here is delight. “May” is inspired by Bogdanovic’s favorite month of the year and features a great solo contribution by guitarist Peter Meyer that builds to a spectacular climax before returning to the theme via a short interlude in the strings.
Unusually, the albums title track “Awake” is actually a short instrumental that functions more as an introduction to the albums final closing track aptly titled “Finding Closure”. This track has a different character than the rest of the material, far lighter and less melancholic and opens with and is characterized by an ascending scale in the vocals that I suspect symbolizes “seeing the light”. With lyrics such as “I can beath the air again, the burden has lifted” Bogdanovic leaves the listener on a positive note after taking them on a mesmerizing journey through a plethora of emotions.
“Awake” is quite a statement from artist who defiantly has something to say and is not afraid to open her soul to those who dare to listen. Highly recommended.
1. I Love | 2. Only Child | 3. Clocks | 4. Crazy Chords | 5. Moving On | 6. Wish I Didn’t Miss You | 7. May | 8. On My Own | 9. Dancing in The Dark | 10. Awake | 11. Finding Closure
Mirna Bogdanovic, Voice, kalimba | Povel Widestrand, Keyboards | Peter Meyer, Guitar, effects | Felix Henkelhausen, Bass | Philip Dornbusch, Drums, percussion | Paul Santner, Ukulele | Asger Uttrup Nissen, Alto saxophone | Rothko String Quartet
Release Date: 12 May 2023
Format: CD | LP | Streaming
Label: Berthold Records
Photo’s by: Dovile Sermokas
The album is available on CD, LP and all usual streaming platforms. You can support the both the artist and the label by purchasing the album below at Bandcamp.
Last modified: June 20, 2023