Jane Siberry finds freedom in speed with Maria

Now - 31 Aug - 6 Sept 1995 - page 55
by Andrew Sun

JANE SIBERRY "Maria" (Reprise/Warner) Rating: NNNN

Little by little, Toronto-reared, NYC-based Jane Siberry is escaping her waifish image. The perceived flakiness and vulnerable-sounding vibrato have given way to a new, improved and bolder performer.

Her two most recent discs have laid to rest all but the most persistent of such perceptions. Graceful and epic, 1993's Brian Eno-infected "When I Was A Boy" presented songs that cut to the heart and hinted at a dark side. It sounded intense and laborious -- accurately reflecting the tense recording process.

By contrast, her new Reprise disc, "Maria" (out Tuesday), comes across like a dam-burst. Remnants of dreams, memories and other trademark Siberry-isms rush headlong into looming aural chaos. Yet Siberry sounds assured, free and not at all like someone caught in the whirlwind of a three-day flood-session of playing.

"Maria's" musical palette is as vast as it is spontaneous, with the players shaping their own environments. Drummer Brian Blade -- pal to both Josh Redman and Daniel Lanois -- and Betty Carter's bassist Christopher Thomas let loose while the Toronto Tabla Ensemble's Ritesh Das and George Koller groove to their melodic South Asian mode.

The resulting songscapes are compelling and unrestrained by the mechanics of pop, with Siberry sounding the clarion call of a mature musician in full command of her art.

"It went straight from my head to tape," a fastidious Siberry says, trying to re-energize herself after enduring the previous interviewer's quest for insights into the song "Mimi On The Beach." "Nothing was worked on except the vocals. The reason I wanted to do it so quickly was partly because the last one took so long. I just didn't have the patience or the energy, so I said, 'Three days. Three is the magic number. No more no less.'

Improvising and that kinetic thrill of not knowing where you're going to go next is just something I've always liked. But there is a lot of structure, too. I mean, I had a good idea where it was going in a lot of cases.

"It took me three days to record, but it took me three months with three hours of material to put it together. Not knowing what would end up being on the record, I was going around and around and nothing would finish itself. This record taught me I had to relearn my way of working and get to the state where I could improvise once again so that I would hook up with the rest of the record.

"To quote Brian Eno, 'Follow the path of least resistance. Don't try to control it, let it be what it's going to be.' What you hear on the record is very natural. Every time I tried to force any unnaturalness on it, mutiny would happen."

This new air of confidence in Siberry, both in person and on record, can be traced to her kibitzing at the Real World sessions in Bath, England, where her enthusiasm for live jams was no doubt renewed. Years of favouring meticulous studio tinkering were displaced by the attractive energy of improvisation.

This new spirit and freedom are most strikingly captured in the ambitious 20-minute stream-of-consciousness finale "Oh My My". A slow sitar gradually twists, encroached upon by trumpet and piano, as poetic earth and water images collide with the "Puff The Magic Dragon" lullaby.

"A lot of things that float through the head wind up being logical later on. Like when I played "Puff The Magic Dragon", I knew it had to be "Puff" and no other thing, but I didn't know why. And I didn't double-guess myself. These childhood things just get charged with so much meaning. It works on all your senses. They become even more precise than other words.

"But man, you want to use things where the guy's been dead more than 75 years because of those copyright laws. We should be able to draw from everything around us and allude to things that are part of our subconscious. Artists are just trying to capture something and they're tying our right hands behind our backs."