Simone Dinnerstein Tift Merritt Night Album Review
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein and singer-songwriter Tift Merritt join forces for the first time on NIGHT, a unique collaboration uniting folk, rock and classical worlds, exploring common terrain and uncovering new musical landscapes. It became available on March 19th 2013 from Sony Classical, NIGHT was recorded at the Academy of Arts and Letters in New York by Grammy-winning producers Adam Abeshouse and Ryan Freeland. Dinnerstein and Merritt will launch the new recording by performing NIGHT live in cities including Munich, New York, Durham, Tampa, and Saratoga in Spring 2013.
Though Simone Dinnerstein (a Juilliard-trained classical pianist from Brooklyn) and Tift Merritt (a singer-songwriter from North Carolina whose father taught her to play by ear) could not come from more different musical backgrounds, when the two met they immediately realized that their passion for music and performance was kindred, if not the same. NIGHT features new songs written especially for the duo by Brad Mehldau (I Shall Weep at Night) and Patty Griffin (Night), as well as Tift Merritt’s own songs (Only in Songs, Still Not Home, Colors, Feel of the World), and classical selections (an arrangement of Schubert’s Night and Dreams, Bach’s Prelude in B minor). The album also includes the world premiere recording of The Cohen Variations by Daniel Felsenfeld, a solo piano piece commissioned by Dinnerstein based on one of her favorite songs, Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. NIGHT was conceived as a song cycle developed for a concert commissioned and presented by Duke Performances in January 2011.
Of the process of creating this work together, Merritt says, “We were coming from completely different directions and taking the risk of extending ourselves into foreign territory to find each other. It was disorienting at times, especially at first. We both felt very exposed and vulnerable but in very opposite ways and places. But we really challenged each other and pulled new places out of each other. And that risk, ultimately, was really exciting.”
Dinnerstein adds, “This album has been about pushing our creative boundaries. I've learned from Tift some of the rules of her world – to be a good band member, not to use too many notes, to let the words come through, to keep an edge and rawness to the improvisation. In the classical world, it can be safer to play familiar music in a familiar way, but I find that a suffocating aesthetic. Music by Bach or Schubert or any composer needs to be approached in a way that’s constantly fresh. I love the idea that a song by Billie Holiday can speak to a song by Purcell, and that each one can influence the way we hear the other.”
Dinnerstein and Merritt, who met in 2008 when they were set up together for an interview for Gramophone magazine and Merritt’s own radio show “The Spark with Tift Merritt,” have been performing (and honing) the material on NIGHT since 2010. The Washington Post described their D.C. appearance in May 2012: “Merritt blew on a pair of harmonicas to add a taste of hickory to Dinnerstein’s take on Schubert’s Nacht und Träume. During a medley of reworked old-timey folk songs, Dinnerstein got off her stool and under the hood of her pristine Steinway Grand and hammered its strings like a dulcimer to accompany Merritt’s strumming of a beat-up acoustic guitar. Merritt took a seat stage left while Dinnerstein played what she described as ‘variations on Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne,’ an all-instrumental piece that brought out the melodic similarities between the original and Jimmy Webb’s MacArthur Park . . . [the concert] climaxed with what [Merritt] called the ‘painful woman’ portion of the show with Billie Holiday’s standing-by-her-philandering-
man blues song Don’t Explain.”
About Tift Merritt:
The New Yorker has called Tift Merritt “the bearer of a proud tradition of distaff country soul that reaches back to artists like Dusty Springfield and Bobbie Gentry,” a standard upholding that got underway in earnest with Bramble Rose, the 2002 solo debut that put her on the Americana map forever. As her sophomore album, Tambourine, was followed by Another Country and See You on the Moon, Merritt found acclaim coming not just from critics and awards organizations but her own heroes, like Emmylou Harris, who marveled that Merritt “stood out like a diamond in a coal patch.” Now a leading lady in her own right, Merritt is hardly one to hog the spotlight. She engages in dialogue with fellow artists of all disciplines on her public radio broadcast and podcast “The Spark With Tift Merritt,” bringing in fellow sojourners ranging from Patty Griffin and Rosanne Cash to Rick Moody and Nick Hornby (who devoted a chapter to Merritt in his 31 Songs book). Of her latest album, Traveling Alone, released by Yep Roc in October 2012, USA Today raves, “Steel-laced country-soul only hints at the sublime charms of Merritt’s Traveling Alone,” and Paste writes, “Traveling Alone . . . not only shows her true lyrical and vocal range, but suggests an adventurous spirit beneath the placid surface.” www.tiftmerritt.com
About Simone Dinnerstein:
American pianist Simone Dinnerstein is a searching and inventive artist motivated by a desire to find the musical core of every work she approaches. The Independent praises the “majestic originality of her vision” and NPR reports, “She compels the listener to follow her in a journey of discovery filled with unscheduled detours.” The New York-based pianist gained an international following because of the remarkable success of her recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, which she raised the funds to record. Released in 2007, it ranked No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Classical Chart in its first week of sales and was named to many “Best of” lists including those of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The New Yorker. The three albums she has released since then – The Berlin Concert, Bach: A Strange Beauty, and Something Almost Being Said – have also topped the classical charts, with Bach: A Strange Beauty making the Billboard Top 200, which compiles the entire music industry's sales of albums in all genres. Dinnerstein was the bestselling instrumentalist of 2011 on the U.S. Billboard Classical Chart. Her performance schedule has taken her around the world since her triumphant New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall in 2005, to major venues including the Kennedy Center, Vienna Konzerthaus, Berlin Philharmonie, Lincoln Center, and London's Wigmore Hall, among many others. She has been a soloist with leading orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Tokyo Symphony, Vienna Symphony, and more. Dinnerstein has also played concerts throughout the country for the Piatigorsky Foundation, an organization dedicated to bringing classical music to non-traditional venues, and performed at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in a concert organized by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to coincide with her BSO debut. Dedicated to her community, in 2009 Dinnerstein founded Neighborhood Classics, a concert series that raises funds for and is hosted by New York City public schools. www.simonedinnerstein.com
Watch an excerpt of NIGHT from WNYC, New York Public Radio: www.youtube.com/watch?v=
NIGHT Track Listing
2. Night and Dreams (Franz Schubert)
3. Don’t Explain (Billie Holiday from an arr. by Nina Simone)
4. Dido’s Lament (Henry Purcell)
5. I Shall Weep at Night (Brad Mehldau)
6. Wayfaring Stranger (traditional)
7. Prelude in B minor (arr. by A. Siloti from J.S. Bach’s Clavier-Büchlein vor W.F. Bach)
8. Still Not Home (Tift Merritt)
9. I will give my love an apple (traditional)
10. Colors (Tift Merritt)
11. The Cohen Variations (Daniel Felsenfeld)
12. Night (Patty Griffin arr. by Jenny Scheinman)
13. Feel of the World (Tift Merritt)
14. I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash)
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