CD release. Celebration by Zoe Schwarz and Rob Koral
(Featured artists on www.jazzcds.co.uk)
Vocalist Zoe Schwarz and guitarist Rob Koral, whose new duo album Celebration is released on 33 Records are a couple, and a duo. But they have taken very different journeys.
As a sixteen year-old, self-taught, left-handed beginner guitarist, Rob Koral was first in thrall to Eric Clapton. Then to Jan Akkerman. He then moved from Bournemouth onto the London music scene as a “whirlwind of energy.” Koral remembers the life he had in the early eighties, He was rushing around town from TV recording to gig to studio with his band Sketch. Or stretching his jazz chops alongside the likes of bassists Laurence Cottle and Roy Babbington and pianists Robin Aspland and Pete Saberton. And when he talks about those times, he can savour the simple differences between then now and then: “The scene was open, you could just pick up the phone and talk to a TV producer. And there weren’t yellow lines. You could always park outside the studios.”
When Koral describes his more recent influences, the names of the guitarists which come up are very different from his original inspirations: he mentions Joe Pass, Jim Mullen, Phil Robson and Martin Taylor. What Koral strives for now, he explains on his website, is "sweet touch", combined with the "intricacies of jazz harmonies". He aims to create “a fluid sound without physical tension in the execution,”
No physical tension? But surely the guitar gives you lop-sided posture? “I’m not aware of that,” says Koral. And I noticed him recoil at the mere thought of the kind of busy guitarists who want to be the fastest in the world, attacking and driving the beat. There is a distinct calm about Koral’s playing on Celebration which clearly comes from within. And playing in the duo setting with Zoe Schwarz gives him the space for his individual voice to come through. “I can breathe.”
Schwarz’s journey through life could not have been more different. From an army family, she was always on the move as a youngster She went to nine different schools before the age of seven, when she was sent away to boarding school. “I sang all the time. I was obsessive. Classical, choral, contemporary.” Her summers as a teenager were spent at Dartington. As a high soprano with perfect pitch she was a natural for pieces by Maxwell Davies and Birtwistle. She was regularly called on to perform compositions by the students. She interrupted our conversation to do a nice impression of the screechy, anguished, eighties soprano parts.
Life then brought Schwarz both the tensions and the rewards of a succession of jobs in finance, where she rose through the ranks, and was involved in managing the risk exposures of an investment bank. But things then took a different turn, and she found herself living back with her parents and her two children in Dorchester. So, after a gap of fifteen years, in 2001, she returned to Dartington.
She met Keith Tippett who still remembered her from earlier summer schools. She had brought along ballads by Billie Holiday to sing. Schwarz remembers his reaction to her singing. He was adamant: “You’ve got to stick at this.”
Those words of encouragement from Keith Tippett were to resonate with Schwarz. She tracked down Rob Koral, who lived locally, and went to him to work on songs. His first response to her singing was also telling. He booked her for a gig. That Saturday. Their memories of that gig are different: “I only knew four songs,” says Schwarz. “She knew a dozen. She was fine.” says Koral.
Schwarz’s voice has changed, moved lower since her early singing. She has an appealing no-nonsense approach to describing the change: “When I sing I feel a real connection with my back. And, I can tell you, with each child, it’s just got better!”
Literally hundreds of gigs later, Koral and Schwarz are releasing their first album as a duo. It was recorded by Mike Hallet, who has worked on previous albums for them and knows their sound. “We just went in to his studio and literally did performances", says Koral.
“Celebration” is also a thank you and a homage to Billie Holiday. The CD celebrates spontaneity, and beautiful sound. It has that organic feel of an album derived from the experience, the joy and the spontaneity of live performance.
Celebration was released on January 11th and is available from www.jazzcds.co.uk