Ashley Daneman – Beauty Indestructible (2015)

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Ashley Daneman’s Beauty Indestructible begins with a deliberate pace. “How You Got to Yes” finds the New York-based singer delivering over the steady drums of Michael W. Davis and the adamant chording of David Izard, while Benje Daneman’s trumpet hits at variegated accent points.

As measured as things begin, a series of revelatory risks soon suggest that the piece is on altered ground. Daneman scales skyward with her vocals and there’s even some layering as the track spins off. It’s not quite hectic, but the game’s afoot and there are cracks in the “beauty” that is purportedly so damn durable.

That sort of spinout, musically and lyrically, is what Ashley Daneman does best. She excels at undoing her own façade, at tumbling into the murkier corners and shedding just a little unsettling light on things.

It makes sense. Daneman quit her “desk job” to pursue her singing career and was selected for the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center by 2003, just a year after making the call to leave normalcy behind. But as it often does, life threw its share of curveballs and she returned to her “desk job” after a severe case of PTSD. The journey, harrowing, eventually led back to music and took Daneman to a scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music. And onward. And upward.

Now it’s Beauty Indestructible that makes the statements. Her debut record comes funded by Kickstarter supporters and is indeed a project of passion. While it’s certainly couched in the world of jazz, it’s also irrepressibly personal and boldly imperfect.

Evidence lies in “He Loves Me Well,” a piece of art that features Ashley Daneman reciting the title line over a forceful musical arrangement that features Sam Weber’s jogging bass and angular cello lines from Amali Premawardhana. Daneman seems to be convincing herself of something. Either “he loves me well” or “he loves me, well.” Or “he loves me, well?” Or…

The clandestine remains on “Sing,” which seems to have momentarily allayed the emotional turmoil in a bed of Izard’s ivories. “Sing over sorrow and sing over pain,” Daneman sings as Weber’s bass joins her.
There are attempts at cheerfulness, as with the hoppy “This Is Somebody Else’s Piano,” but the cracks still show. The title track swings with a kiss of R&B and Izard’s Rhodes, while the glorious and lovely “Where No One’s Ever Lost” is gorgeously pensive and hopeful.

Beauty Indestructible isn’t like most vocal jazz records, thank goodness. It uses the songs not to hide from life but to draw the listener in. At the core is Ashley Daneman, a vocalist uninterested in camouflaging with her tone. She scales the walls, finding and sharing the truth as she climbs to astonishing personal heights.

Jordan Richardson

Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and ne'er-do-well. He also contributes to his own Canadian Cinephile and Canadian Audiophile websites. Contact Something Else! Reviews at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
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