Jana Herzen – Nothing But Love

On ‘Nothing But Love’, Jana Herzen’s diverse, soulful and sophisticated collection of folk/pop/world/jazz originals, the singer-songwriter, and guitarist reaches new heights as a storyteller and composer. The wonderfully rich, mature, and complex song tapestry will be released on January 17, by the multi-GRAMMY® winning Motéma label.

With its unexpected juxtapositions of isolation, loss, and melancholy, alongside eye winking fun, hopeful ‘turning the page’ and finding the courage to consider letting the sun back in, ‘Nothing But Love’ offers a complex portrait of a force that, in Herzen’s words, ‘makes the world go ‘round’. “This cycle of 12 songs –one of which I wrote on a napkin in an NYC jazz club as far back as the 1980’s– has long desired to see the light of day.” she explains. “Each song is inspired by a particular moment, place, or person in my life. Together, they tell a tale of love in many guises.”

Herzen’s varied and colorful history infuses her writing. Raised by famed activist scientists Leonard and Leonore A. Herzenberg of Stanford University, her initial calling as a theater artist led her to London and then to New York City in the 1980s where she eventually became a founding member and dramaturge for the award-winning and influential MCC Theater. After ten years with MCC, she then traveled the world extensively, recorded her first album, Soup’s on Fire, and eventually founded her tastemaker Motéma label in 2003.

Though she has primarily devoted her last sixteen years to leading Motéma, Herzen has never lost sight of her journey as a singer, composer, and instrumentalist. The influences of her deep immersion in diverse styles of music show up in the production and arrangements of ‘Nothing But Love’. The album’s soundscape benefits from the vibrancy and immediacy of being recorded ‘live in the studio’ by a group of seasoned jazz musicians with a shared history of working together. The chemistry of the band is palpable. Each instrumentalist brings a special gift to the table, including Herzen whose guitar work plays a key role in leading the arrangements. As a vocalist, Herzen’s rich, milky and confident tone is warmly inviting as it leads us through the journey of “Nothing But Love.” The song-cycle opens with the title track, a swaggering guitar-driven blues/reggae/country vibe that packs a humorous spiritual punch. Next is the mournful, smart and redemptive “Speak” a story of lost love and found freedom set to six-eight rhythms born of Herzen’s love for African music. “Speak” is further elevated by a memorable song structure and instrumental interplay.

The driving rhythms and Dadaist lyrics of the standout third track “On The Outside,” usher in the most quirky, wild and jam-based side of the album’s chameleon sound. Then a jazzy world of smoke and loss move the narrative through Herzen’s original Cuban Montuno “My Latin Love” and her haunting jazz ballad “Night Blooming Jasmine. ”

Then there’s an interesting cinematic shift on “With An Open Heart.” Lightness starts peeking through. As the verses evolve – her story, then his story, then our story — all souls experiencing love from a different perspective – a door opens to new love, paving the way to Herzen’s Tom Waits-esque wedding song, “Lightening The Load,” and her celebratory “High Time”, set to infectious African Soukous rhythms and affirming the triumph of light over darkness.

Winding up the journey, are Herzen’s reggae/pop song “Like A River,” which flows with the joy of love, trust and partnership; the deeply heartfelt “Thinking of You,” an ode to familial love, loss, and redemption; the expansive “Precious Air,” written in the Australian Outback; and the stand-out closer, the dark and powerful, yet oddly aspirational, ‘Name of Love’ which urges us to “please trust in something that’s higher.”

Throughout the program, Herzen’s understated vocal delivery shifts to suit the mood, style, and story at hand, and at times subtly evokes artists who’ve preceded her – the warm contralto of Christine McVie, for example, or the sensual, yet humorous and wide-ranging vocals of a Maria Muldaur. Meanwhile, her lyrics and musical style at times can bring to mind such forebears as Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon or Suzanne Vega.

The album’s instrumentation is also particularly engaging and quietly powerful: Supporting Herzen’s vocals and electro-acoustic guitar, are co-producer and Music Director Charnett Moffett’s groove-solid and vocal-like fretless electric bass lines; Brian Jackson (the keyboard wizard behind the production of Gil Scott-Heron’s albums) faithfully underscores the soul of each song with just the right chords and colors; the versatile and much-in-demand drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr, brings both grit and groove; and rising star violinist Scott Tixier plays inspired and imaginative lines that succeed at conveying or supplementing a wide range of emotions, from playful to mournful, beautifully complimenting Herzen’s multi-timbered voice.

Nothing But Love marks a growing collaboration between Herzen and Moffett, now in their eleventh year of working together since he was first signed to Motema in 2008. Their prior collaborative albums are – ‘Passion of a Lonely Heart’ a vocal, guitar and bass duo project released in 2012, which they toured internationally; Nett Duo ‘Overtones’, an instrumental bass and guitar project released in 2018; and most recently Moffett’s 2019 free-jazz-meets-rock-meets-classical opus ‘Bright New Day’, on which Herzen plays guitar in his quintet. Notably, it was her experience performing and recording with Moffett’s Bright New Day quintet that led her to use the same personnel on this album. Moffett, who is acclaimed as one of the most innovative, and virtuosic bassists in jazz comments, “Jana’s poetic voice has a sensibility that touches the heart and soul. Her journey in life has led her to various styles of music that join together here to create a rainbow of song that expresses the many different colors of love.” Herzen will preview the release of Nothing But Love with an October 29th concert at Joe’s Pub in New York City. Tour dates and the release of additional tracks from the album sessions will be announced soon for 2020. To learn more about the inspiration for the songs, read Herzen track-by-track anecdotes below.

Comments are closed.