A renowned performer throughout New England and NYC, Elynne Rey’s fascinating new collection is one of the few albums in jazz history that we can say is “for the birds” and mean it as a compliment. The Birdsongs Project doesn’t simply tap into her passions for birdwatching and photography (with some of her breathtaking images in the packaging), it celebrates life and jazz through beautifully rendered, alternately exquisite and whimsical flights of fancy through a wide expanse of jazz, pop and even classical history.
One might expect a veteran jazz singer to find bird-loving joy in songs by Blossom Dearie (“I Thought I Heard A Hummingbird”), Hoagy Carmichael (“Baltimore Oriole” “Skylark”), Abbey Lincoln (“Bird Alone”) and Charlie Parker (“Ornithology,” which includes her clever original scat narrative “The Bluejay & The Cat”). A supple, rangy vocalist like Rey would naturally gravitate to the catalogs of Joni Mitchell (“Song to a Seagull”) and The Beatles (“Blackbird”).
Yet the collection’s piece de resistance finds her going beyond those realms and refashioning Schubert’s plucky “Die Krahe” into an observational masterpiece called “The Crow” – with vocal gymnastics by Rey and piano runs by co-producer Bennett Paster that are the musical equivalent of an unpredictable, darting and swooshing bird in flight. If you like jazz and birds, this album will feel transcendently fulfilling. If you like one or the other, you’ll still be very intrigued and deeply rewarded.