The Peter Malick Group,
Chance & Circumstance
(Koch, 2003)

Peter Malick was perhaps the second happiest person on earth the night of Feb. 23, 2003, when Norah Jones hit the jackpot with five Grammy awards including album of the year, record of the year and best new artist. Malick at the time was sitting on recordings he had made in 2000 with then unknown Jones singing lead. You'd never know it from listening to these tracks, but the story goes that Jones had never sung the blues before fronting Malick's band for the short tour of the East Coast that culminated in the recording of the six tracks that are the centerpiece of Chance & Circumstance.

In the CD booklet, Malick describes encountering the young Jones purely by chance when he stopped into The Livingroom, a club on the lower east side of Manhattan, hence the title of this set. The Norah Jones tracks were previously issued on an EP called New York City shortly after Grammy night. For this release, Malick recorded two tracks each with several singer-songwriters he discovered in similarly serendipitous fashion: Jess Klein, Kirsten Proffit, Antje Duvekot and daughter Mercy Malick. All told, this album features five different singers, all young, talented and female, with Malick serving as guitarist, songwriter and producer.

Although the Jones tracks are interspersed with the others to create the impression of a larger concept, her session was clearly a separate project unto itself. Jones sang lead in a showcase for Malick's band, which played high-quality blues-based rock with nice lead guitar work by Malick, a one-time blues guitarist in the James Montgomery Band. Four of the six tracks are Malick originals; they also cover Bob Dylan's "Heart of Mine" and Magic Sam Maghett's "All Your Love." Malick's songwriting is competent but would not in itself light the world on fire. Jones sounds great singing this material -- in fact another Rambles.NET reviewer mentioned to me once that he prefers these tracks to Jones's own records. This eminently listenable material does rock somewhat more than do her own two albums. These tracks are so well done that it seems a shame that they didn't do more. If you're jonesing for Norah, this disc is essential.

The rest of the record is basically a sampler of the other artists. Jess Klein's two tracks were co-written by Klein and Malick and have a typical female singer-songwriter sound of acoustic guitar, bass and drums, all well produced by Malick. These songs are very listenable representations of Klein's talent; she's a Boston-based artist with two full-length albums to her credit.

Kirsten Proffit co-wrote her two songs with Malick and bassist Bruce Witkin; and to my ears these are the best this disc has to offer after the Jones material. Proffit has a fresh, sweet voice that sounds great paired with crunchy electric guitar, not unlike Juliana Hatfield or Garrison Starr; at times she can almost sound like Shawn Colvin. Malick's lead guitar work in her songs is tasteful but restrained; sometimes he seems on the verge of really cutting loose. These two tracks are so good they make me want to hear more by Proffit.

Antje Duvekot co-wrote her two songs with Malick as well, with a continuation of the same excellent production and sound. The songs are pleasant to listen to, but nothing special in terms of songwriting. Duvekot, who was born in Heidelberg, Germany, contributed two songs and harmony vocals to the Irish group Solas. Her voice reminds me a little of the Nields.

Malick says in the booklet that he's proud to include his daughter Mercy on this disc, and for good reason. She is a talented singer, and her first song, co-written with dad, sounds right at home on this project. She really shines on her second track, which is a well-chosen cover of a lesser-known but excellent Ray Charles composition, "What Would I Do Without You." This is quality cocktail jazz/blues with some nice lead guitar work by dad.

Overall, the production, recording, and performance quality is impeccable throughout Chance & Circumstance. Whether Malick has a visionary ability to spot developing talent (as the structure of this CD would like you to think) or if he's really just an opportunist trying to ride the coattails of Jones's extraordinary success -- or maybe a little of both -- two things are clear: Malick is all about showcasing new female singer-songwriters, and he has produced one immensely enjoyable record.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 30 October 2004

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