In photography it’s known as “Magic Hour,” that time just after sunrise or just before sunset when everything glows with a golden intensity and reality becomes imbued with the Technicolor majesty of a dream. That liminal space, with its warm, inviting sheen and intoxicating air of mystery, is where singer/pianist Ariel Pocock finds herself on her stunning second album, Living in Twilight.
Those in-between spaces are abound on the album, which is due out June 9 on the Justin Time label. At 24-years-old, Pocock is just past the boundary between a prodigy and a student to being a full-fledged professional making her mark on the modern jazz landscape. There are also the songs on the album, which explore the blurry borders between love and heartbreak, joy and sorrow, meditation and communion.
“At this point in my life things don’t feel as cut and dry,” Pocock says. “It’s clear to me that when you’re at this age there are countless paths you can take and not all aspects of your life are going to be clear – musically, personally, geographically. So this album is more self-reflective. I may not have all the answers but I enjoy taking the time to think about it and figure it out along the way.”
Pocock culled the songs from a variety of sources, from standard repertoire from the Great American Songbook by Cole Porter and Ray Noble, to more modern jazz compositions by Chick Corea and the Brazilian-tinged sounds of Egberto Gismonti, to contemporary pop and indie-rock hits by the likes of Adele and Sufjan Stevens. This wide-ranging fare sits comfortably next to Pocock’s own memorable originals, which range from the buoyant to the spiritual.
Living in Twilight is the highly anticipated follow-up to Pocock’s critically acclaimed 2015 debut, Touchstone. Where the album’s subject matter may explore themes of uncertainty, the music itself reveals a much more confident artist and bandleader. Where the earlier release was recorded by an all-star band assembled specifically for the occasion, Living in Twilight, produced by Matt Pierson, features Pocock’s regular trio with the in-demand Montréal rhythm section of Jim Doxas (drums) and Adrian Vedady (bass). On several tracks they’re joined by guitar great Chico Pinheiro, considered a leading figure in the modern Brazilian jazz scene.
The trio’s interplay shows off the ease and chemistry they’ve forged over dozens of onstage encounters. “Jim and Adrian are both very creative and open-minded musicians, which makes it really fun to bring my original music to them,” Pocock says. “It’s been so much fun to develop this connection together, which gave us the freedom of being unafraid to mess around with things in the studio.”
Drawing material from a generation-spanning songbook, Pocock brings the listener into a state of introspective self- examination, a sense of searching for the unattainable while wandering life’s winding pathways. Whether drawn from the songwriter’s own imagination, the Great American Songbook, the jazz pantheon, Brazilian and Cuban folk music or today’s chart hits, these thirteen songs are set in the twilight time of romance, either the heady, thrilling dawn of passion when hope and desire mingle in a vertiginous rush, or the gloaming hours of heartbreak, when love is dead but emotions still run raw and heated.
Pocock possesses a natural gift for expressing these emotions. Her voice, at once vulnerable and wry, vividly captures the blend of unadulterated joy and head-clouding confusion that comes with love while being able to step back and cleverly observe them. Her touch on the keyboard, meanwhile, is equal parts tender and adroit, allowing her to speak as eloquently on the album’s instrumental tracks as she does on those with words.
The album opens on an intimate note, as Pocock sings Noble’s “The Very Thought of You” as if turning that thought over in her own head, musing to herself as her interplay with Doxas and Vedady reveal the happiness those imaginings bring. Corea’s “500 Miles” follows, settling easily into a soaring groove befitting the lyrics. The gently evocative title track comes from husband-and-wife indie-folk duo The Weepies.
Porter’s “So in Love” opens with an air of tension that suggests the turbulence of romance, while the songwriter’s “I Love
You” bursts with a less complicated celebration of newfound infatuation. Pocock’s rendition of Adele’s “Someone Like You” powerfully wrings the fragility and remorse from the song. Pinheiro adds lush and breeze-swept accents in jubilant engagement with Pocock’s ebullient scatting and burbling Rhodes on Gismonti’s “Saudações.”
Stevens’ “To Be Alone With You” pulses with aching desire even in Pocock’s instrumental rendition, while the Disney classic “When You Wish Upon a Star” comes in for a surprisingly brisk, swinging treatment. The late Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle provides the heartbreaking closer, “Go Leave,” which Pocock performs alone with meditative grace.
“So Long” is the first of Pocock’s three originals, marking the first time that Pocock has recorded an original song with lyrics, rendered with a remarkable honesty as she sings the tale of moonlit yearning. “It feels a lot more vulnerable than the instrumental originals,” she says. “Most of the time as jazz singers, we’re used to singing words written by somebody else. I just tried to write something that felt true to me at that moment in my life.”
Pocock wrote “Gonzalo’s Melody” under the influence of the great Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, while the gospel- tinged “Hymn” was a direct result of her recent experiences playing in church — a refreshing change from the often competitive jazz world. “I loved learning the spirituals and hymns that we did in church,” she says. “Then one night I came home from one of those gigs where it was really loud and everybody was playing to show off, and I sat down at the piano and just wanted to play through those pretty spirituals, and I came up with that song.”
Spied at dusk or dawn, the everyday looks a little different, a quality that imbues every song on this enchanting album. Living in Twilight illuminates Pocock as a voice every bit as golden and magic as those elusive hours.