click on image to visit Paul Schwartz'website
click here to visit Lisbeth Scott's website
Image © Windham Hill 2000
State of Grace
stunning contemporary music featuring
vocalist Lisbeth Scott
Review and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2001
all images used with artists' permission
Formatted for 800 x 600 or larger windows
Last updated: 20 May 2001
The most recent album from composer Paul Schwartz (website) is entitled State of Grace (Windham Hill (USA) 01934-11565-2, 2000). Joined by lead vocalist Lisbeth Scott (website), the album's ten tracks span a range of evocative contemporary new age styles evolving from those of his former albums also reviewed at Musical Discoveries. Our review is accompanied by an interview with Paul and Lisbeth. Links within will transport you to other reviews of Paul's work within this webspace. A review of Lisbeth's other recordings is planned for mid-2001.
State of Grace is lushly produced, combining orchestra with contemporary percussion and rich vocal arrangements. The album opens with the contemporary track "Veni Redemptor Gentium." Clearly built upon the foundation of Aria and Aria 2: New Horizon, Lisbeth's warm and sensually sung vocals soar above the strings while crisp percussion adds to the contemporary sound. Lisbeth's modern interpretation of "Amazing Grace" is perfectly accompanied by Schwartz' up-to-date instrumental arrangements. Lisbeth's range and depth clearly shines through her evocative delivery of the lead vocal track. Most typical of a major motion picture soundtrack, "Miserere" features a full orchestra, subtle ambient grooves, and the Joyful Company of Singers provides an inspiring chorus, adding a lovely texture to the album. The album cover design is by Carylann Loeppky, whose work adorns many of the albums reviewed here.
We asked Paul about his background prior to State of Grace and he gave us a longer version of his biography. He told us, "I was born in NYC into a Broadway-Musical theatre family. My father was Arthur Schwartz, who wrote many standard songs including "Dancing in the Dark" and "That's Entertainment." My mother was an actress." He continued, "When I was twelve, my family moved to London, where I remained through my high school and college years. I went to the Royal College of Music, and spent my summers at the Accademia Chigiana in Italy."
Paul returned to the USA in 1981. "He continued, "I spent the next thirteen years primarily as a conductor, first in the classical world and subsequently on Broadway. In '93 I left my last show, Phantom [of the Opera] , to pursue composing full-time. In '96, my lawyer introduced me to Steve Plotnicki, who owned Profile Records, and I pitched the idea for Aria to him. I had no idea what I was talking about, but it must have sounded convincing because he went ahead and funded it. That's how my whole recording career got started" (review). Between Aria and his latest project, Paul wrote and released Revolution, a unique album featuring classical-crossover arrangements of some of the Beatles most popular songs (review) and the followup, Aria 2: New Horizon (review).
Paul's latest release arose when Windham Hill approached him for a Christmas record. He told us, "I demurred on that, but suggested that I could do a loosely spiritual record that could be released in the Christmas season, without being overtly a holiday record. It would interest me more, and not re-hash the usual hackneyed material." We asked Paul to comment on how he selected Lisbeth to do the vocal work. He told us, "Jonathan Miller, my A & R guy, is the one who suggested her. I didn't know Lisbeth's work, but one song of hers in particular struck me as the kind of sound I was looking for. In the end, what we did together was somewhat unlike anything she had ever sounded like before, much to her surprise and my pleasure. She and I collaborate very well together."
We caught up with Lisbeth and asked her to fill us in on her background. She told us, "I was born in Boston. My dad was in radio and my mom was an actress. She told me that I used to wake up in the morning singing in my crib. Mom entered a contest to win a piano from a radio station and she won--and that's how my musical career got started!"
She continued, "I started piano lessons at six, went on to study at the New England Conservatory and Connecticut College, and realized the world of classical music was not for me. I used to practice ten hours a day and give myself one hour out of those ten to improvise and play my own things. It was my favorite hour!" Lisbeth told us, "Eventually I knew I had to pursue creating the music that I heard in my head. I made a bet with a friend that I would never work a 9 to 5 job and so started playing music for dance classes to make a living."
Lisbeth told us about it, "It was a wonderfully creative way to make some and I could keep my fingers in shape. One day I was bored so I started to sing and the whole class stopped and stared. The teacher smiled and told to please continue singing! Then I moved to California, continued working with dancers to make money and started really writing my own music. I sang constantly, exploring many styles and textures on my own."
We asked Lisbeth about the development of her vocal style. She told us, "I have probably had a total of 15 or 20 voice lessons in my life. I like to use many different styles when I sing and as long as it doesn't hurt, I'll try it. I created several CDs and started getting some attention here in LA." [We'll be reviewing these at Musical Discoveries this summer--stay tuned!] She continued, "I realized that singing really is my life as I am happiest when I am doing it. I enter another world and float far away. I feel so comfortable, not shy at all. That's the only way I can describe it! I began doing sessions for film and television composers and was soon making my living solely as a singer and songwriter. I've had a pretty good run of it so far, getting my songs in many major films and tv shows and working with almost every major composer in town." She concluded, "It seems lately that I am getting more and more attention for being my own voice and talent which makes me happy."
We asked Lisbeth about how she joined up with Paul Schwartz for State of Grace. She filled us in, "I recently completed my third album, Dove, which I'll release in the fall. I've very proud of it! My manager, Adrienne Foon, had heard through BMI that there was a new project looking for a vocalist so she submitted a few CDs of my work. I didn't think anything of it because we were always submitting for different projects and some came through and some didn't. All in a day's work. I was, however, excited that I was being considered because I was a huge fan of Paul's work."
Lisbeth continued, "I listened alot to both Aria and Aria 2 and loved his style and the textures he chose. Both CDs were in regular rotation at my house! When I found out he liked my voice and we began talking about the project, I was thrilled! I didn't know what the process was so I can't comment on that. Paul told me later that he had hundreds of CDs to listen to and kept coming back to mine."
"Veni Creator Spiritus" is another stunning track from State of Grace. Here Lisbeth's soaring vocal part is intersperced with a whispery vocal percussion part and is supported by both lush contemporary electronic instrumentation and orchestra. Dominated by lush strings, the orchestral arrangement of the instrumental "Auguries Of Innocence: Part 1" is equally enjoyable, even without vocals. In the second part that follows, the arrangement becomes far more contemporary with full soundtrack quality splendour.
We asked Paul what kind of music he listens to at home. He told us, "I am extremely eclectic. I might listen to one track from a pop record, followed by one track from a classical record, and so on. I tend to listen as research: what are people doing that's new, what did that composer do that I could learn from ... I do particularly admire Kruder and Dorfmeister among current producers."
Noting that Paul's work is actually very varied and modern, we asked what artists influenced the sound. He told us, "Pink Floyd, George Martin, Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, among pop producers. Some early 20th century composers among them: Ravel, Mahler, Debussy, and Stravinsky."
Lisbeth told us about her favourite artists, "They are: Bach, Ravel, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, John Martyn, The Beatles, and Sting." She told us, "I listen to many different styles as well. I listen to be moved and captivated and when I find that I usually stay with it! Lately I've been listening to Geoffrey Oryema, Katell Keineg, Medieval and Renaissance music, Cesaria Evora, Loreena McKennitt, Bach, Albeniz, Haydn String Quartets, Albinoni, Chris Cornell, Nick Drake, and more."
We asked Lisbeth to further elaborate on the development of her vocal style. She told us, "I developed my vocal style by experimenting. When I first started singing I would just copy people I heard. I loved different and strange sounding things like Tibetan Monks and Indian singing and Middle Eastern vocal techniques." She continued, "Someone turned me on to Meredith Monk and I found her stuff fascinating. So on I went, trying everything I could until I found a way to make it my own."
Lisbeth told us about her training, "I studied voice briefly at two points in my life. The first was when I finished college in New York with Amy Zorn who greatly encouraged me and gave me some solid technique. The other time was in LA with Nathan Lam, who gave me a way to keep my voice healthy after I'd found out what I wanted to do with it. Both teachers are wonderful and I am very grateful to them."
"My musical training has been as a classical pianist. Paino performance was my thing. But then I started singing and all that changed.I'm so happy for my classical background as it gives a strength in my career that comes in handy. Paino is like my native language. It will never leave me."
Lisbeth told us about her singing, "I am asked to do many different styles in my work as a singer. I tend to close my eyes and envision where the sound of my voice is coming from. I like to imagine the air in different parts of my head and I also see pictures in my mind, not intentionally, it just happens. It's always a journey! There have been many times when I am done singing and I open my eyes, when I am shocked to see my surroundings. I sometimes foget where I am when I'm singing! That happened when I sang "Amazing Grace" and "Be Still My Soul" for the State of Grace album. "
Lisbeth's rendition of the hymn "Be Still My Soul," based on Sibelius' Finlandia, is performed with only simple piano accompaniment and is evocatively delivered, drenched with emotion, illustrating the depth and sincerity of her vocal range. It is a simply stunning track. "Angelica" is full of soaring vocals, very much in an Aria style, but it is much more contemporary with repetitive electronic instrumentation swirling strings and crisp percussive elements comprising the arrangements. The clarity and crystalline texture of Lisbeth's voice shines through with every note.
Paul explained how he writes his music, "My process is terribly slow. Painfully so. Mostly it involves endless self-criticism, hating what everything I do sounds like. When I stop hating it, it's getting close to being done. I generally assemble a rough structure of a whole piece pretty quickly, in two or three days, and then spend up to three more weeks tweaking. Sometimes it changes dramatically in that time, somtimes just in a few details."
He continued, "When all the composing is done, and the basic synth tracks are recorded in my studio, I go to London to Abbey Road to mix and do the orchestra tracks. I love the studio there, and in particular my engineer Peter Cobbin. He is the one person who's musical taste I trust absolutely. He tells me when I need to change something, and perhaps even more importantly given how insecure I am, he tells me when I don't need to change something."
We asked Lisbeth if she has a career or if she works outside music. She told us, "Music is my career, my life, my fun, my work, everything. It's almost all I do. I'm blessed to be able to do quite well as a singer and songwriter. Of course when I first started to stubbornly try to make my living as a singer and songwriter, it was a bit tough. But it took one year for everything to shift and i'm soooo glad I took the risks that I did. I'm also involved with healing work--Reiki, crystal, other techniques--but I never charge for any of that work."
We asked Paul and Lisbeth about taking the material from State of Grace to live audiences. Although they have plans to do so they haven't done it yet.
When asked about the internet and impact of the world wide web, Paul told us, "I'm a little sanguine about the idea that the net will level the playing field for the small artist. Having a website is not the same thing as getting hundreds of thousands of people to visit it. Record labels are primarily marketing and promotion machines, and the money and experience that they can commit to any enterprise, be it brick and mortar sales or internet sales, will always make them a stronger force than just some band in Iowa that puts up a site."
Paul continued, "I do think that if an artist has good word-of-mouth, a site can be very helpful, because it offers instant gratification to a potential new listener. The trick is getting people to go to the site." Visit Paul's website at www.paulschwartz.com for further information.
Lisbeth added, "My CDs are available on the web and at my web site. I agree with Paul in that a web site is great, but if no one visits it, what's the use? I find the more exposure I get, the more hits I get. If a smaller, independent artist can find a way to get massive promotion without a label, then they stand to do quite well on the interent with sales because people will hear about them and search for their products and site."
She continued, "Record labels have a whole machine set up to promote and market and the finances required to do that successfully are way out of an independent artist's league. But there are ways to do it--with corporate sponsorship, etc.--and only time will tell how effective the interent can be in the future. As an independent artist, the internet has given me a lot of hope I have to admit. It's a connection to the world that was previously unavailable. My mind is always working to figure out the best way to put it to use." Visit Lisbeth's website at www.lisbethscott.com for further information.
The album's standout track is clearly the upbeat contemporary Celtic piece entitled "Simple Gifts." Swirling electronics support a lovely whistle melody as the song opens. Vocalise and full orchestra precede an Lisbeth's upbeat lead vocal part. The instrumental chorus blends whistle, pipes, strings and further vocalise being underscored by crisp and contemporary percussion. This tremendous track is most certain to appeal to the widest of audiences. The album closes with the title track "State of Grace," a whispy and emotionally played string-based instrumental. A short pause within it precedes a more upbeat and jazzy instrumental bonus track reminscent of Kenny G's work, with Schwartz' electronics playing a main melody that would have been equally well suited for the saxophone. It is a lovely way to conclude the album.
You can find further information on Paul Schwartz' recordings, read further reviews and hear soundbites at amazon.com. A great ablum to begin sampling his work with is Aria. Order it from amazon.com here. If you like what you hear, be sure to try the stunning followup, Aria 2: New Horizon; you can order it from amazon.com here. Beatles fans looking for contemporary arrangements of their favourite tracks should try Paul's Revolution. Order it from amazon.com here. The latest album from Paul Schwartz featuring the stunning vocal work of Lisbeth Scott, State of Grace, is only a click away from you at amazon.com here. Those interested in Schwartz' latest album should return to Musical Discoveries soon to learn more about Lisbeth Scott's recordings. State of Grace with its lushly produced instrumental arrangements and stunning vocal work is tremendous in all respects; clearly, it is a must listen!
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