Title: Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs
Artist: Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen
Label: Di-Tone records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 15, 2018
Maya Angelou is revered as one of the greatest and most influential writers in America. Her ability to spin tapestries depicting life in this country, as both an African American woman and as a person fighting for their right to live free, is evident in her best known works such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her books and poetry profoundly shaped American literature as we know it today. When Angelou died on May 28, 2014, President Barack Obama described her as “one of the brightest lights of our time.” Now, with Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs and Songs Without Words, Broadway star Capathia Jenkins and composer Louis Rosen have come together to bring the words of Maya Angelou back to life through music.
Phenomenal Woman is a beautifully done project and in many ways can be considered an amalgamation of both classical music and jazz. Composed as a song cycle, there are no clear improvisatory sections, but Rosen takes advantage of jazz instrumentation and at times, grooves, to give the entire cycle a much looser feel. This is certainly true of the four instrumental interludes, or Songs Without Words, that divide the sections. Throughout the album it is also clear that Rosen approached the composition of each tune with a specific intent, creating very unique textures through the use of somewhat nontraditional instruments—at least within the idiom of a jazz sextet—such as the French horn and clarinet.
The album opens with “Prelude: Song Without Words, No. 1 (A Day Next Week),” which begins with a haunting clarinet and piano duet leading into the first song, “Come Be My Baby.” This is an absolutely gorgeous track, with Jenkins’ warm and present tone complimented by the interesting color of sound from the vibraphone.
Jenkins was the perfect choice for this project. Her experience on Broadway is evident in her attention to detail when presenting, as well as interpreting, the lyrics and messages in the texts. Each word comes across so clear and crisp, which couldn’t be more important on an album presenting the poetry of someone as legendary as Maya Angelou. With other stand out tracks such as “I Hate to Lose Something,” “Out Here Alone,” and “For the Caged Bird Sings,” Phenomenal Woman is a beautiful homage to the legendary Maya Angelou.
Reviewed by Jared Griffin