One tends to believe Diana Panton when she sings. In a prevailing cultural environment of massively marketed popular singers who strain for effect in whining or blaring a single attitude, Panton the jazz singer gives a solid impression that what she truly feels is what she sings, that what she feels is what you get. She mines both adult and child experience for their shades of emotion and her voice suggests that she knows deep within the feelings she sings.
Where others in the popular music realm may vocally assault, she instead draws the listener into what seems a personal world. She does so with inherent ease, unforced nuance in both style and meanings, and an unaffected and natural presence. She sings quietly because she has private things to say and we lean forward to hear the feelings revealed.
Panton has a distinct up close way with a song that’s hers alone, delicately rich and subtle, and full of implied wistful longings and sometimes an almost impish delight. She inhabits a song as a secure yet understated expression of intimacy, not as one simply singing a lyric and swinging inside a tune, but as one feeling her way through complex and what often registers as untested emotions. In what seems to be her private world, we sometimes feel unsure if we should be listening –are we listening to some else’s diary?
Panton floats on a delicately felt lyric and then floats imperceptibly away at the lyric’s end. Her musical lines are ethereal yet sexy in the way she slowly savors them. We hear the flavours of a life lived and felt deeply and still finding its way. Panton’s singing has the quality of a quiet gaze out the window –okay, that’s what I’m doing as I listen to “Red” -and she delivers what seems a mix of hope and personal damage done, subtle as smoke. She seems in the process of discovering her feelings as she sings them.
Panton doesn’t push the beat usually, but pulls back into an airy sensuality, one that discreetly aches and still searches. She holds back as if gathering her thoughts and her feelings. And she seems to be actually finding her feelings, which gives a sense of newness to the singing, one of fresh realizations on very personal terms. We think we understand these, but then they elude us as another vocal line tapers off into a personal world.
I suggest upping the volume a bit to hear and swim inside Panton’s many lightly but assertively-etched vocal shadings. But not too loud, because hers is a crack small group of top musically-potent musicians backing her and they do know how to step forward with assertive chops. Did I say backing? Well, actually, this is a very integrated group of voice and instruments, each one decidedly individual yet blended fresh and smooth into an instinctively realized mix. They string out their solos one to the next like phases of someone breathing, often gently.
There’s one of many beautiful cases of seamless in “Alice in Wonderland” – on “I Believe in Little Things”- where Don Thompson moves in on a run first taken upward into flight by guitarist Reg Schwager. Up we go with Schwager and then, when he stops, Thompson backtracks on the progression, changes a few of the upward steps, and then continues on keyboard. It’s an almost imperceptible musical delight –and there are so many of these on both CDs. I replayed even just that one brief sequence a number of times to again sit back in my pleasure and check it out again.
It makes sense that Panton has made an album of “children’s” songs, one rich with a sense of awe in face of newly experienced everyday things. Such is also what she conveys in “Red” –a person not new to the world but new to each feeling she feels in this world. We thus enter the personal realm of both a child and an adult, albeit one created in some classic and popular songs by adults who do know their craft with creative expertise -although they are, well, still adults, not kids.
But kids do get an enticing dose of genuine jazz in this CD, to be sure. And what makes this music equally true for everyone, whatever the age, is Panton herself. It’s not here a singer expressing what she imagines children feel, but instead an adult expressing what she herself feels. In fact, while listening to “I Believe in Little Things” I was pleased to notice myself having feelings I sometimes, unfortunately, put aside. I was happy to realize again that the child in oneself is not meant to age or go away. Let’s be real with ourselves –all of ourselves, these CDs seem to say. Let’s be real with others –adults and children- in this world of ours we are trying to understand.