Long As You’re Living by classic jazz stylists Sophia Shorai and pianist Tommy Barbarella is a pleasant, if unremarkable, listening experience. If you’re throwing a dinner party where you want there to be comfortable background music without people cutting each other off in mid-conversation to ask who the artists are, this perfectly fits the bill.
Long As You’re Living comprises a dozen numbers by diverse writers from Hank Williams to Leonard Cohen to Horace Silver to Stevie Wonder, connected by a theme. “The common thread,” says Shorai, “examines the struggle of the human condition. The album takes the listener through stories of loss, yearning, political unrest, sorrow, then finally peace and restoration.” Laudable sentiment and an interesting idea, but the artistry of Shorai is sophomoric and Barbarella, who has played with the likes of Prince, Chaka Khan, and Art Garfunkel, cannot carry her.
Had Shorai either more seasoning or, for that matter, greater feeling and a less clichéd technique, this would be more than run-of-the-mill fare. As it is, though, you have generally weak renditions of strong material. Wonder’s “Big Brother” strands Shorai hopelessly out of her depth. There’s a reason not too many singers cover Stevie Wonder: after all, how does one interpret this guy’s melodies in a way that’s, at the very least, as interesting a manner as the original? Shorai’s rendition is tepid. Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” in paint-by-number fashion, hints at the blues—including all the right notes in the right places—but that’s about it. The title cut, by Oscar Brown, Jr., gets a pedestrian reading that is almost stiff.
Barbarella plays beautiful piano—inspired, in fact—while Shorai waxes coy with forced finesse instead of natural feeling. Long As You’re Living, extols the press release, “is a collection of standards, old and new, performed in one of the most simple arrangements possible: one piano and one voice. At a time when modern recordings are often saturated with multiple tracks and studio wizardry, chasing an elusive perfection, Sophia and Tommy set out to return to a spare aesthetic allowing for nuance and emotional complexity.” Wherein lies the proverbial rub.
Long As You’re Living is listenable. It just isn’t noteworthy.