Rena Jones: Echoes
Cartesian Binary Recordings

Rena Jones, the still-young multi-instrumentalist, sound engineer, composer, and producer, has accomplished much: she's issued five full-lengths; been involved in more than thirty collaborative albums; is adept at incorporating electronics and beat programming into her music; and plays violin, viola, cello, and keyboards. Her fifth full-length album, Echoes, takes its inspiration from the poetry of Rumi and features a luscious sound-world fleshed out by the contributions of guests, among them vocalist Sophie Barker (Zero 7 and Groove Armada), modular synthesist Matt Robertson, grand piano player Laura Scarborough, drummer Earl Harvin, and violinist Ilya Goldberg.

The title track makes for an appealing opener in presenting a pas de deux between the ululating strings of Jones and Goldberg. The subsequent dreamscape makes the opener seem lean by comparison, with “Shadows” augmenting Jones' elaborate cello and sound design with upright bass, electric piano, bass clarinet, and bassoon. A rare injection of uptempo energy helps distinguish “Dusk till Dawn” from the other nine tracks, though its inclusion of accordion and minimoog helps do so as well. “Dancing with the Universe” receives a boost from the presence of Laura Scarborough's elegant grand piano playing and Katrina Blackstone's wordless vocalizing, while Barker's ethereal murmur complements “Mirror Me,” even if once again it's the rich sonic design Jones fashions that elevates the material as much.

While the high quality of the arrangements and level of musicianship do impress, a couple of things weaken Echoes: an over-reliance on one tempo (down-tempo specifically), and music that in a few cases flirts a little too much with a MOR vibe. Exemplifying the latter tendency is “Wishes,” where Barker's vocals blend into a trip-hop-styled track in a way that sometimes feels a bit too sleepy. Elsewhere, one longs for a lesser focus on atmosphere and a stronger dose of aggression. With ample strings and woodwinds resources to work with in “Returning to the Source,” it seems a shame to hear Jones opt for relaxing moodscaping rather than something more dynamic; a hint of funk surfaces in “Mesmerized,” too, but one longs to hear it given freer reign. In her defence, perhaps it's unfair to expect Jones's music to be something it's naturally not, and that one should bear in mind when critiquing her music that old line about the leopard and its spots.

May 2013