We Are Alive

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When singer/songwriter Meklit Hadero's On a Day Like This… appeared in 2010, comparisons to everyone from Nina Simone and Joan Armatrading to Joni Mitchell and even Billie Holiday were abundant -- and inaccurate. Certainly, given her diverse background -- born in Ethiopia, raised in Brooklyn, and residing in San Francisco -- the TED Fellow had soaked up countless influences, but her sound was, and remains, unique. We Are Alive introduces a new rhythm section in bassist, keyboardist, and guitarist Sam Bevan and drummer Lorca Hart. Returning is trumpeter Darren Johnson. There is a large cast of guest contributors too. Through 12 originals and a fine, syncopated, deeply soulful cover of Sting's "Bring on the Night," Hadero remains diverse, but the textures and rhythmic elasticity of jazz are more prevalent. This is a very good thing. Johnson's horn often acts as another singing voice that is in contrast to Hadero's rangey alto on much of the record. The alternate flavors of Caribbean folk and African subcontinent rock are a dialogue on "Earthquake," but the luminous interplay between her singing and Johnson's harmonic invention elevates the melody, moving it beyond the confines of either genre. The angular Afro-funk in "Kemekem (I Like Your Afro)" with Samuel Yirga relies as much on Miles Davis' electric jazz vamps circa 1971 as it does on Peter King. The cabaret waltz that is "Stuck on the Moon" evokes the bluesy jazz of the '30s in its horn and piano charts. The lithe trumpet and basslines in "Overgrown" walk the line between modern pop and the '60s horn charts of Quincy Jones, yet they are transformed through Hadero's poetic lyrics and silvery delivery into something wholly other. Soul and dub effects inform the folksy melody in "Rest Now," with its wonky keyboards, fingerpops, and layered backing vocal chorus, and get stranger yet more beautiful when a cello slips through the bridge. The title-cut closer contains an edgy, futuristic samba groove with repetitive, staggered, rhythmic layers. Hadero's swooping vocal outlined by noisy sonic effects -- including a Casio that sounds like an electric kalimba -- sends things off on the cosmic tip. We Are Alive is every bit as fine as its predecessor, and adds a more complex, though no less earthy, dimension to her catalog.

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