"True collaboration is that willingness to extend yourself to a new place, but in a way that does not feel like anything has been given up."
That's precisely the problem with this album: nothing is given up. No true collaboration, no blending of styles takes place. It's a situation of "neither is, nor is not."
Night is the name of the new collaboration between alt-country singer-songwriter Tift Merritt and classical pianist Simeone Dinnerstein. After meeting via Gramophone magazine, the two became friends and found they had a lot in common. Despite their disparate musical worlds, they decided to collaborate. Merritt is a self-taught, play-by-ear, folk songwriter and Dinnerstein comes from the hallowed halls of classical music.
I can't believe that Mr. "eclectic-hybrids-are-good" EclecTopia is about to write this: the common musical ground for which they strive is beyond their respective reaches. Merritt can't make a pathway into classical anymore than Dinnerstein can get a feel for folk or blues. Most tracks sound tentative as if each artist is both trying to fit into and not offend the other artist's style. My old music teacher called this "pussyfooting." Neither artist feels at home in each other's world, so they tiptoe around each other. Separate, they sound fine, but together they cannot form a bridge between styles.
Merritt sounds great on her own songs ("Still Not Home"), but "Night and Dreams" by Schubert (complete with harmonica) and Purcell's "Dido's Lament" are a mishmash of interpretation. Call it a stylistic train wreck: not strong enough for classical and too weird for folk. Even the Billie Holiday song, "Don't Explain," gets the kid gloves treatment. You'd figure that blues might be in Merritt's comfort zone, but she approaches it so cautiously that it never takes off.
"Dinnerstein: "It felt at first that what it meant to be a classical pianist in this situation would mean that I would need to play a lot of notes — to show that I could play a lot of notes because that's what I do all the time. And it didn't work with Tift. It just got in the way."
Actually, we could have used more notes and certainly more fire by this classical virtuoso. Her playing is so restrained that it sounds positively like she is afraid to play anything.
Dinnerstein, as expected, is at home in the classical pieces, but takes a minimal approach as on Merritt's "Still Not Home" and "Colors;" providing some nice plucked piano tones (from inside the piano) which sound like an Autoharp. Even on her solo, "The Cohen Variations," the music dips and drips, going nowhere.
A clear example of this sonic reticence comes on Merritt's "Feel of the World." Dinnerstein's playing is tasteful, but so reserved that she adds very little and consequently the song never gets the support or lift it could have had (Think Jim Price's contribution to the Rolling Stones' "Moonlight Mile.").
I suspect that both artists have been in their own comfort zones and never have adventured outside of them until now. That's too bad.
I like hybrids, but this album does not get my endorsement.