Personnel: Donna Lewis (vocals); Ethan Iverson (piano); Reid Anderson (double bass); David King (drums).
Audio Mixer: D. James Goodwin.
Recording information: The Clubhouse Recording Studio, Rhinebeck, NY.
Arranger: David Torn .
Donna Lewis' fifth studio effort, 2015's Brand New Day, is an intimate, jazz-infused covers album that finds the Welsh-born singer/pianist backed by maverick jazz trio the Bad Plus. Best known for her 1996 hit, "I Love You Always Forever," the conservatory-trained daughter of a jazz pianist has heretofore forged her place in the pop world through styles like atmospheric art pop, singer/songwriter folk, traditional jazz, and classical. While Lewis' last album, 2008's In the Pink, was heavily electronic, Brand New Day explores a much more stripped-down acoustic sound. Lewis has toured often in a duo setting, accompanying herself on piano with a bassist at her side; here, however, she pares down her focus even further by handling only the vocals, leaving all instrumental duties in the capable hands of the Bad Plus, the highly acclaimed Minneapolis trio featuring pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King. Famous for their own idiosyncratic jazz covers of pop and rock songs, the Bad Plus are a lithe and creatively sympathetic ensemble, perfectly suited to back Lewis on this project. Along with two originals (the languid "Sleep" and a ruminative reworking of "I Love You Always Forever"), Lewis and the Bad Plus delve into a handful of inspired cover songs that cross stylistic boundaries from the fantastical latter-David Bowie number "Bring Me the Head of the Disco King," to Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin' at Me," to Damien Rice's "Amie." What's particularly invigorating here is how untethered Iverson and his group are, even in a pop setting. The band are clearly able to play just as fluidly and adventurously on Brand New Day as they might on a jazz trio gig, even as they supply Lewis the generous framework she deserves as a vocalist. And then there's Lewis herself, with her cherubic, fuzzy coo of a voice. She digs into these songs with care and expertise, drawing out her phrases and enveloping a tune in multiple layers of meaning. This is perhaps best expressed in her delicate reworking of Chocolate Genius' 1998 soul ballad "My Mom," in which Lewis takes an already heart-wrenching song about watching a parent succumb to dementia and brings out the most poignant, tender aspects of the piece via her soft, lilting vocal delivery. Much like on the rest of Brand New Day, the singer's delicate tone contrasts subtly with her experienced choices, creating a beautiful and fascinating dichotomy. ~ Matt Collar