Dakota Suite / Quentin Sirjacq:
The Side of Her Inexhaustible Heart
The Side of Her Inexhaustible Heart, Chris Hooson's extended love letter to his wife Johanna, is about as heartfelt and naked a declaration of love for another human being as one might encounter. In his own words, “All my records are about my life with Johanna, my recognition that I am so very lost without her, the knowledge that she sustains and nurtures me. I have made each song for her from the start.” Hooson, who sings and plays guitar on the two-disc set, co-wrote almost all of the material with pianist Quentin Sirjacq in a process that involved Hooson sending Sirjacq guitar and piano sketches that the pianist then developed into the fully arranged settings heard on the recording. The material receives its melancholy and emotional heft from the compositional writing, first of all, and, secondly, from the elegant performances that the pianist, cellist Deborah Walker, violist Cyprien Busolini, double bassist Youen Cadiou, and violinists Irène Lecoq and Samuel Leloup bring to the material.
The album begins with a beautiful setting for piano and cello composed by Sirjacq, the instrumental “As Long As Forever Is (Part I),” with the two musicians fully exploiting the material's emotional and dramatic potential. The album's one questionable move emerges in the second piece, “Where The Tears Go”—Hooson's singing. Given the personal nature of the lyrics, it wouldn't make sense to have someone else handling the vocal parts, but his singing, on this song at least, isn't at the same level as the instrumental playing. Yes, the delivery is sincere and well-intentioned but also merely passable, more demo-like in character than polished. Whatever negative impression that's left by that vocal piece is quickly dispelled, however, by the opening two parts of the five-part title track, where Sirjacq's consistently refined and elegant voice is accompanied by strings.
Admittedly, Hooson's singing registers as more credible on “The Side of Her Inexhaustible Heart (part III),” though that's to some degree accounted for by a luscious arrangement that pairs piano and violin with strings and vibraphone. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Hooson's singing on “You Will Take All That I Love” (composed by him alone) is again more palatable, perhaps because in this instance it's helped along by the impact made by the lyrics' open-heartededness. One can, on the other hand, recommend gorgeous instrumental pieces such as “The Side of Her Inexhaustible Heart (part V),” the album-closing “As Long As Forever Is (Part II),” and “Becoming Less And Less” without reservation. In the latter case, the setting's twelve minutes seem to vanish when the strings and piano unfurl their graceful melodies at a seemingly glacial pace, achieving in the process a stillness that perfectly complements the music's introspective character. Central to the second disc is the four-part “Yes We Will Suffer,” which Hooson wrote in direct response to the tsunami that struck Japan in early 2011 and which is distinguished by suitably mournful and elegiac string passages. The first and third parts are solo spotlights for Sirjacq and thus enable the listener to all the better appreciate his artistry. Here and elsewhere, it's the deeply felt instrumental playing that most recommends this collaborative outing.