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Lauren Kinhan’s third solo album titled Circle In a Square is a jazz excursion of original songs featuring a barrage of jazz masters. Kinhan has had a two-decade long tenure with the internationally known New York Voices and this inviting array of new songs shows off her talent. Released Jan. 7, 2014 on Dotted I Records, Kinhan employs musical storytelling with contributions from some of jazz’s most experienced players.
The album’s opening track is the title track. On it, listeners will immediately hear Randy Brecker on the trumpet, then Kinhan’s soft, sultry vocals as she croons lines like, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, have you heard/I’m gonna play a record on then HI Fi/Analog, outta date, antiquate/The echo of a generation gone by.” Accompanied by Andy Ezrin on the Fender Rhodes guitar, Ben Wittman on drums and percussion, Will Lee on bass with Marlon Saunders and Ella Marcus aiding Kinhan with background vocals, the song musically tells the tale of a generation flying by thanks to new technology, but there are those diehard holdouts who refuse to give upon the technology of their day.
“Chasing the Sun,” is the album’s fourth track and the only instrumental piece on the album with Kinhan vocally scatting. It opens with Wittman on drums and percussion then Aaron Heick does a futuristic in and out play on the alto flute. David Finck’s bass and Romero Lubambo’s guitar can both be heard lightly in the background. The tempo of the song could give listeners the feeling that they are in fact pursuing the sun as it goes up and down as someone would running then slowing down after a long sprint.
The sixth track, “To Live or Die,” has an island vibe as it opens with Wittman’s drums and percussion and Finck’s bass. Then, Ezrin’s magical piano work enters the melody and Kinhan starts to softly sing lines like, “A Hobbit in a hole, an Alice up a tree/An imaginary hero fighting back the enemy/Where the lost boys play with their psychosomatic schemes/So they’ll never be lonely…except for now.” The somber lyrics tell a story of childhood fantasies on the verge of expiring as one gets older and Kinhan’s wistful tone evokes the message beautifully.
“The Deep Within,” the album’s closing track, opens with Peter Eldridge playing classical piano. Listeners might envision hearing this song in the latest romantic drama as the protagonist is finally getting over the loss of their unrequited love and moving on. Kinhan’s vocals then complement Eldridge’s traditional tickling of the ivories with lyrics such as, “Tulips edge the cornerstone/Grass is growing green again/Sweater on my shoulders sit/Unfurling leaves on trees amidst/The spring showers will fall/Birds sing random haikus/Often heard across the lawn…No, the heart revives, it always does/The eyes will have their turtledoves/It’s written on our porous skin/The sleeve that holds the deep within.”
In closing, Circle In a Square from Lauren Kinhan lives up to its name. It is a cyclical journey through Kinhan’s life’s experiences in musical form and she conveys each story with help from some true jazz geniuses.