Though she agrees her portuguese doesn't quite roll off the tongue yet, she enjoys the unfamiliarity. The result is an intriguing variation of the same song. Instrument wise it is not dissimilar to a violin and viola duet, rendering differences in perspective. Perhaps technically this might have been unintended, but conceptually it was.
"Being multilingual allows one a different perspective on the world, to be able to meet people where they are, to gain insight into their worlds, to experience the struggles of self-expression in an unfamiliar tongue. These are important experiences to me," the artist explains.
Rohe continues, "I wanted to write in multiple languages, even if I couldn't speak them perfectly. I think it's part of the challenge of our shrinking world, to be able to connect with people, to hear your own language spoken in a different way, to endeavor to be understood any way we can."
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That the imagery is reminiscent of old nursery rhymes (like three men in a tub) isn't accidental. According to Rohe, children singing in a bus in Brazil sparked inspiration for Jean Rohe & The End of The World Show.
In it she communicates devoid of poetic arrogance, utilizing words with meaning one does not have to guess. Nursery rhymes and fairy tales come to mind only in that both use simple, ordinary words to explore profound, extraordinary themes. She weaves her own tales like a little child would as he or she walked down the street, mind filled with details of journeys to Neverland, translated in lyrics that give a peek into her imaginings.
The tone of her lyrics are imbued with a remarkable sensibility--not a dumbing down of intellect by any measure but, to the contrary, an elevating of ideals. That said, her collection of prose are frequently less Disneyesque than they are echoes of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Feeble traits of humanness are never lost in pretty animation.
For example in Red Rover she sings:
"If you ever come to my side of the town,
You will know me by the jewels in my crown.
I am the princess, I'm the mattress, I'm the pea.
I can charm the stripes right off a bee.
All of the children want to play with me
All the ladies want to take me out to tea
All the gentlemen want my company
And the sailors want to row me out to sea." - lyrics, Red Rover
In the accompanying essay she describes,
"You can't look at her without sizing her up. You can't size her up without plotting how you'll cut her down. It's almost automatic, now, the assessment of conquering. The timid ones are no fun anymore, too easy to fluster them and to catch them off balance....
On the contrary, Jean seems to have no strong inclination to make a point to do anything but communicate. Instead, like her lyrics and music, she keeps her delivery simple, neat and honest. Inspired by artists like Joni Mitchell and Ani Difranco, Jean narrates her songs, too, although not quite in the same way.
Rohe speaks when she sings, possessing a remarkable ability to enunciate words clearly without losing steam. In English she phrases almost theatrically, on occasion leaving the impression of doing a jazz song in a musical. The fast paced Red Rover, Who Shall Bring Him to See What Shall Be After Him and O Bright Star are examples.
Perhaps the one negative that could be mentioned about the record is that it is a bit too immaculate. That is not an issue for those who have not seen Jean Rohe and her band perform, but it is for those who have watched them perform the songs live when the sounds are fuller and more vibrant. From the twang of the mandolin to the whimsical vibraphone to the whamp of the base, all come together with vigor on stage. There is powerful energy that doesn't quite manifest itself fully in the recording.
The timbre of her voice, too, changes in this multilingual record and is most noticeable in bilingual songs like The Fisherman and La Coqueta. English lyrics produce a tighter, sharper and more modulated quality. In the Spanish and Brazilian sections the sound is cooler, deeper and more hollow.
A cock of her head and a skeptical smile let you know that she acknowledges your challenge and accepts. The rules now dictate that the evening cannot end before one of you emerges victorious, the vanquished left jingling inside a pocket with all the other stories."
Still, Rohe claims to be an optimist. "(But) sometimes it certainly does feel like we're going to hell in a handbasket," she accepts.
Lyrics alone do not complete the record's narrative. Scenes are set using field recordings. Instruments traipse through generally folk and Brazilian influenced rhythm coaxing much texture. All contribute greatly in setting the stage. From Jean's mandolin to acoustic and electric guitars, drums, percussions and vibraphone, the collection of instrumentation delivers a full serving of musical flavor that can best be described as fusion with nuance.
In describing the instrumental choices, Rohe explained they were "a consequence of the musicians I had gathered. In the couple of years preceding the recording, I had played shows with all these musicians and had found that they each brought different and beautiful textures to the music."
The artist also recalled that the only instrument that had not been part of the regular group prior to the recording was the bass. "But Chris Tordini's work is now indispensable," Rohe decides. "I can't imagine most of these songs anymore working without bass."
Voice, too, is a core instrument in jazz; and Jean Rohe's vocal technique is a refreshing departure from the breathy exaggerations of Norah Jones mimics, or its opposite, the almost amusing modern caricature adaptations of Billy Holiday.
Rohe does away with the slurring and the mumbling and the endless riffs that so many novice jazz and pop performers feel compelled to employ.