As we ease deeper into 2021 and the light at the end of the quarantine/pandemic year of struggle, anxiety and malaise tunnel inches ever closer, music is once again proving to be a powerful bellwether, reflecting our hopes for shards of sunlight to pierce the gloomy slog and a restoration of (most, if not all) things to our pre-COVID realities. No indie artist captures that transition more brilliantly and authentically, and with more unbridled exuberance, than Constance Hauman, the acclaimed soprano turned electronic pop singer and ambient/jazz/new age pianist whose multi-faceted whirlwind of expression this past year is truly a tale of two epics.
Last year, in my awestruck review of the “2nd Wave” bonus edition of her heartfelt, soulful and expansive “2nd Wave” bonus edition of The Quarantine Trilogy, I raved: “Hauman’s uniquely engaging, highly improvisational five track instrumental EP was only partially recording during the lockdown, but its meditative, sonically inventive and seductively grooving tracks seem uniquely designed to carry us through the inner and outer storms to another realm in our consciousness.”
Turns out the storm metaphor was delightfully prescient, because the multi-talented musical visionary perfectly captures our cautiously hopeful movement past the musical, emotional and spiritual confinements of 2020 with a new event grander scale opus titled (perfectly!) Tropical Thunderstorm. The generous, luxurious and often percussively intense and sonically furious 73- minute set begins with a high spirited, funky romp expressing the freedom of breaking chains “Taking Some Steps Ahead.”
In my earlier review of the track, I wrote, “Vibing and creating purposeful sonic magic again with her drummer and longtime collaborator Ross Pederson on midi drums and synths, Hauman. . .is in a decidedly more optimistic place, bursting at the seams to break free from the haunting reflections of quarantine time and disquieting social unrest. . .That energy hits us immediately with a glorious 40 seconds of hypnotic tribal drumming, followed by a spirited undercurrent of lively swirling piano notes and Hauman’s whimsical breathy laughter and her whispering, 'steps to take ahead.' It’s a lively, spirited journey from there, as she spins a liberating, lighthearted jazzy melody over all sorts of sensual atmospheric cool, inventive percussion schemes and otherworldly ethereal hypnotic energies.”
That infectious track launches an eclectic and adventurous journey full of dynamic twists and hairpin turns as Hauman showcases the full range of her talents on five jazzy/new age piano driven instrumentals and five emotionally intense, alternately boisterous/explosive and dreamy/intimate vocals. Though it’s early in the overall narrative (track 3), the nearly 11-minute title track is clearly the emotional centerpiece of the collection - a richly poetic, intensely passionate, spoken and sung outburst of emotion, painting a narrative of love and devotion over a bustling soundscape of dynamic melodic, harmonic and percussive hues, buoyed by the bass energy of Pederson’s wife Julia Adamy.
“I would have to say the overall concept or inspiration for TT came from exploring or pondering which was a more powerful emotion, desire or passion?” Hauman says. “I came to the conclusion that desire was the most powerful because it had more nuanced emotions that were born of desire including passion and both desire and passion lead to love or come from love - unleashed, restrained, sensual, erotic, melancholy, pure and finally longing. I wrote a poem entitled ‘Tropical Thunderstorm” in Jamaica during an actual tropical thunderstorm.
“I felt like my senses were caught in a tropical thunderstorm as I was realizing my hidden feelings for someone in my life,” she adds. “My emotions were all over the place and the words were rushing out so fast it was if I couldn't catch them and that is exactly the way I can describe what it feels like when I start channeling music. I am overcome with a tidal wave of melody, harmony, lyrics and emotion all at once - like a storm that I can't control.”
Hauman explains that the approach she and Pederson took to the track laid the foundation for every other piece on the album: “When we listened back, the whole thing felt like a tropical thunderstorm and I hit me like lightening. That poem I wrote months ago would totally work. I frantically looked for it and started riffing the lyrics over what we had just laid down. Then the improvised midi drums were thrown out so he could record his amazing live drums at his home studio and then it was obvious that the bass line I laid down would fly into the stratosphere with the extraordinary talent of Julia on bass.”
The instrumentals, which in their own way enlighten us to Hauman’s gifts for storytelling even without words, include the lyrical and ambient, classically influenced solo piano and piece “The Howling”; the hypnotic, free-flowing “I Didn’t Go To Ben Platt” (written on a night she literally didn’t go see Julia play with the singer and Broadway star); the moody, then dramatic power ballad “Boy I Haven’t Done That in a While”; and “Something’s In The Hallway,” a slow simmering fusion of mystical cool and understated jazz percussion.
As for the colorful vocal tracks, “Swag” is a humorous, talk/sung jazz and rock influenced romp talking about the craziness of being addicted to another person (somewhere Robert Palmer must be smiling at this one). “Away” is a plaintive, slightly heartbreaking meditation on the tense moment of running into an old lover and daring to suggest letting go of the past and opening up to a second chance. “It’s True” is a tensely rendered, atmosphere-rich mid-tempo ballad about acknowledging how we feel and deciding to overcome our fears and move forward.
Everything on Tropical Thunderstorm is prologue to “Edge of the Sky,” the trippy, sensual and ethereal 17-and-a-half minute closer which allows newer fans of Constance to experience more of the operatic range of her voice. Over a swirl of piano, ambience and dense percussion, she emotes and muses (sometimes wordlessly) about meeting her lover somewhere off in the mist, on the other side of the sky. On an album full of hope and optimism, it’s the ultimate expression of our collective way forward.
Listen to Tropical Thunderstorm here: https://smarturl.it/lb25rn