Clare Foster: Kumbhaka
It is first the exotic and beautifully whimsical blue make-up and floral hat that draws you into her world, before the album title – Kumbhaka, so loaded with meaning – mesmerizes you. The ultimate seduction, is of course, this repertoire which is made so much more seductive by the voice of Clare Foster. The biggest surprise is – more than anything – the breathtaking arrangements all of which take their cue from the diabolically difficult-to-master Afro-Caribbean rhythms of Latin America. You think you have heard it all before? Well… be prepared to perish the thought because the British vocalist has not only turned the whole concept of standards on its head. Best of all, Miss Foster sings all the songs in her native tongue: which is English. The very idea of it is refreshing and novel in itself. You will, in fact only hear one or two choruses on “Quem Canta os Males Espanta” – her own composition, no less – vocalized in Portuguese by Sue Jarvis, and that too, with admirable precision.
Clare Foster has been a regular voice on the scene in The Isles and is also reasonably well-known on the continent. The album takes its title from a word that vocalist practitioners such as her will be familiar with and vocalists will greatly aspire to: it is a technique that relates to the retention of breath in the yogic practice of pranayama. When mastered that state is called kevala kumbhaka, the complete suspension of breath for as long as one desires. That Miss Foster comes close to achieving this – or simply does achieve it – is evident in her masterful vocal technique. However, the mechanical control over the vocal chords is not simply Miss Foster’s forte. She shows us on her phrasing on these songs – the incredible vocal leaps within her perfected vocal register – that her technique is sublimated in expression. She is a sweet and agile soprano; an artist of the first order.
Miss Foster’s instrument is gorgeous; luminous, precise and feather-light. Her musicianship is fierce as she probes the expression of each word, brings ceaseless variety to soft dynamics, and gives every word a special grace. This is eminently clear in the slower, more elegiac songs such as the bolero and the danzón heard in her shimmering re-imagining of “I Get Along Without You Very Well” and stoic “The Silent Space”. These are but two of the fifteen masterful interpretations of songs that are so utterly familiar in their original incarnations as standards from the tried and tested American Songbook [with a few originals thrown in, of course]. The fact that Miss Foster navigates each song with gleaming tonality and utterly convincing emotion in a whole new rhythmic realm is the crowning, glorious achievement of the album.
Although I suspect that she would not have achieved all of this without the masterful hand of co-arranger and multi-instrumentalist Shanti Jayasinha, it is clear from the performances of all the musicians here that the music has been deeply interiorized and performed idiomatically. It’s the kind of album of music that comes whole-heartedly and joyfully recommended – both for the surprise of it and the absolutely marvelous performance by Miss Foster.
Track list – 1: Who Will Buy? [curulão] 2: Baião na Praia [baião]; 3: I Get Along Without You Very Well [bolero]; 4: I Only Have Eyes for You [rumba/salsa]; 5: Singing in the Rain [bossa nova]; 6: Gone With the Wind [bulería]; 7: No Moon at All [xôte]; 8: Can’t Help Singing [chacarera]; 9: I’ll Remember April [candombe]; 10: Stairway to the Stars [ijexá]; 11: Quem Canta os Males Espanta [samba]; 12: There’s a Small Hotel [maracatú]; 13: What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life? [milonga]; 14: Just One of Those Things [bomba]; 15: The Silent Space [danzón]
Personnel – Clare Foster: vocals and arranger; Shanti Jayasinha: arranger, cello, trumpet, flügelhorn and percussion; John Crawford: Fender Rhodes [1 – 10, 12 – 15]; Andrés Lafone: electric bass and tamboril ; Andrés Ticino: drums and percussion, and tamboril ; Guillermo Hill: guitar and tamboril ; Neil Angilley: Fender Rhodes ; Sue Jarvis: voice ; Davide Giovannini: backing vocals ; Mick Foster: alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, and bass clarinet [1, 4, 7, 12]; Fayyaz Virgi: trombone [4, 10]; Karen Tweed: accordion 
Released – 2021
Label – Independent
Runtime – 55:31
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