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The James Valentine Quartet

The James Valentine Quartet – As I Live And Breathe (Album Review)


The James Valentine Quartet – As I Live And Breathe (Album Review)

Nothing pleases me more than sitting down with a good book, a coffee, and some smooth jazz playing in the background. While the coffee was black and the book was Yuval Noah Harari’s exceptional 21 Lessons For The 21st Century, the musical accompaniment was provided by The James Valentine Quarter’s As I Live And Breathe

As I Live And Breathe is an interesting addition to jazz music in general, but also the Australian Jazz scene, as James Valentine and his jazzy cohorts don’t merely interpret the jazz classics of yesteryear, they reinterpret many popular modern songs that results in an extremely compelling recording that all jazz lovers should not only adore but should have in their collection. 

Released by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)/Universal Music Australia in 2014, international readers may find it difficult to locate a copy as it wasn’t released physically outside of Australia. However, thanks to the modern era of streaming, As I Live And Breathe is available just about everywhere. Of course, if you’d prefer to own the album, rather than stream it, iTunes has you covered. For me, however, the Apple Music stream is simply beautiful. Join me as we explore the individual song selections and interpretations that make up The James Valentine Quarter’s As I Live And Breathe.

Both Sides Now is a lovely interpretation of the Joni Mitchell song and is a perfect opener for As I Live And Breathe. However, I can’t help but feel that this interpretation is a little too clinical and I would have liked to have heard a little more improvisation throughout, along with a slightly more immersive soundstage. While it is lovely, it just sounds a little too polite.

Wonderwall will get you toe-tapping and moving to the rhythm. A great song when originally released by Oasis in 1995 and this interpretation is magnificent.

Great Southern Land is an Australian classic and is one of my all-time favourite songs, by a band that I have been a fan of for well over three decades. The critical bar is subsequently set high, but it need not have been as this rendition is absolutely stunning from start to finish. Vilma Sanzone does an amazing job on vocals and subsequently, this rendition becomes one of the greatest songs on the album and one of the greatest jazz interpretations I have ever heard. Fantastic!

Something is, and always has been, a beautiful song. It is amazing how well it translates to a jazz styling and perhaps that is the sign of a good song; one that can go beyond its initial musical genre and sound as though it was originally composed with the new genre in mind. All I have left to say about Something is turn up the volume and be immersed in an absolutely incredible jazz interpretation that will leave you speechless. 

That’s Where It’s At is a great tune and while I associate it with Sam Cooke, this rendition modernises the song and Robert Susz does an incredible job on vocals. The musicality is equally compelling, paying homage to the original, while also making it more appealing than the original in my opinion. 

Tear Drop is an amazing piece. The depth of the soundstage is massive. I absolutely adore the song and this reinterpretation of the Massive Attack original is beyond reproach. 

Checking On My Baby is a song, originally recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson, that I’m not overly familiar with, although it’s worthy of inclusion and As I Live And Breathe wouldn’t be the same without it. Still, I can’t help but wonder about the song’s placement in the album structure as it is a rather sharp shift following Tear Drop, which can be, at least initially, a little jarring on the senses. 

Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover is a solid tune and interpretation, from the Paul Simon original, but is arguably nothing to write home about. 

Something So Strong is a Crowded House masterpiece and while this re-interpretation is lovely, it doesn’t come close to the original. That said, it isn’t bad. It’s just that the original is so good!

Rocket Man, as I’ve mentioned before, was foundational to Elton John’s classic era and it’s a song that everyone knows. You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard it. Regardless, this reinterpretation is quite different in places, while remaining true to the original John/Taupin collaboration. It is fresh, yet different enough that in parts you can’t hear a direct correlation between this rendition and the original. It is, interesting!

Is This Love is a love song to Bob Marley & The Wailers. It’s absolutely beautiful. Reminiscent of the original, yet completely unique. Is This Love is a perfect way to close the album and without a doubt, it encourages me to listen to As I Live And Breathe again. 

Overall, As I Live And Breathe is an exceptional release and my only criticism is that the interpretations, on a couple of the songs, sounded a little too perfect and less jam-based than I would like. For me, jazz is about interpretation, which The James Valentine Quartet nails, and the unpredictable jam session that shifts organically throughout the various movements. Well, there are times when I feel The James Valentine Quartet practiced a little too much and the organic human element is subsequently lost. Of course, the upside is that if you enjoy jazz, but don’t like the chaotic shifting characteristics of the genre, this is most certainly an album for you. Regardless, there is something here for every jazz, rock, and pop devotee to enjoy.