Secrets of My Heart
Australian pianist, singer, composer Sarah McKenzie became well established globally with her Impulse! 2017 Paris in the Rain and now returns on an independent label with the half originals/half covers Secrets of My Heart. She reunites with noted Australian composer, arranger, and events music director Chong Lim who produced her first two projects. This was recorded in New York City with a core quartet of French bassist Pierre Boussaguet, guitarist Dan Wilson and drummer Donald Edwards. Tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, cellist Judy Redhage, flutist Danilo Caymmi and percussionists James Mack and Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Bocatto also support McKenzie on select tunes. Both Wilson and Roberts are from Joey DeFrancesco’s band.
There are plenty of gems in her originals, but we’ll take the covers first. She opens with John Barry and Leslie Bricusse’s “You Only Live Twice” ( a theme from the James Bond film of the same name) that showcases both her vocal talents and sprightly piano touch. She delivers her interpretation of the Stanley Styne/Donald Kahn classic “A Beautiful Friendship” and shows her bluesy side, with scintillating guitar from Wilson, on Dinah Washington’s “Come on Home.” The closing track is a dazzling piano medley of her Gershwin favorites, snippets of “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Summertime,” “The Man I Love,” and “I Got Rhythm.”
McKenzie is grateful for the opportunity to travel globally to play her music and nods to the iconic composer with whom she spent time in France, Michel Legrand, as she covers “You Must Believe in Spring.” McKenzie hails from Melbourne, studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and began her career in Europe, first in Paris and then in London. Steeped with strong knowledge of the Great American Songbook, she says that this album reveals her time spent in Europe from a harmonic standpoint, pointing, as one example to Legrand’s style being influenced by Debussy and Ravel.
Now to her originals, or as McKenzie says, “Ultimately this album is about me embracing the unknown and going with love.” The title track, with its supple bossa nova rhythm and large backing cast is about reticence while being pulled in multiple directions. Using rather dark imagery, here is a sample of her lyrics – “Kept in a box/Locked in a darken room/Buried beneath the places where roses bloom/Sinking so slowly/Drifting apart/Just like the secrets of my heart.” She alternates between this type of dark imagery and more hopeful messages, the latter not coming quite as naturally to her. She does render her “I Fell in Love with You” in upbeat fashion with glistening piano and wonderful guitar from Wilson. Wilson and McKenzie shine again on the guitar/vocal duet “My True Love Is You,” a pensive ballad, showcasing her sultry side.
Her other ballad, also an original is “You and the Music” which she cites as the album’s anthem. While that one channels Cole Porter, she challenges herself with putting lyrics to a fast tempo bebop tune in the bluesy “It’s All About Love.” Her favorite track is the Brazilian tinged “’Till the End of Time,” written in Rio de Janeiro where she collaborated with musicians who has played with Jobim. It features some stirring tenor from Roberts. She also wrote “DeNada” in Brazil and it has one of her strongest piano solos.
McKenzie is exploring with a fearless eclectic approach. With her gift for composing, her sparking piano work and elegant vocal delivery, she seems right at home with these accompanists.
- Jim Hynes