Norah Jones returns to the piano in new work
The shorthand for Norah Jones’ new Day Breaks disc is that it’s a “return to roots”.
Like most such sound bites, that’s simplistic. Yet the jazzy, piano-based vibe is closer to Jones’ blockbuster Come Away With Me debut than anything she’s made since, giving her record company some 25 million reasons to be excited.
That’s the staggering number of discs that 2002 album sold, its soothing sound a balm for troubled times, earning the newcomer a fistful of Grammys. Now she’s 37, a mother of two. The new music reflects her jazz training with more challenging arrangements and an all-star band of players.
It also puts Jones back in front of a piano. It has been awhile since she’s written songs using the instrument she was trained on. There are better piano players, and better singers, but Jones combining the two creates an indelible sound.
“It’s more me than when I’m just singing,” she says.
Her path to Day Breaks began with a 2014 concert in Washington celebrating her Blue Note record label’s 75th anniversary. She performed I’ve Got to See You Again from her first album with a formidable band including Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Brian Blade on drums and John Patitucci on bass.
“It was utterly riveting,” says Don Was, veteran producer and Blue Note president. “It didn’t sound like anything you’d heard before and gave you goose bumps. I certainly made clear that I wished we had a recording of it.”
The experience satisfied Jones, too. She’d been listening to a lot of jazz-soul recordings from the 1960s and 1970s and thought the new songs she’d been writing would work well with Shorter and those players, who form the backbone of the music on the new disc.
Since Come Away With Me, sometimes it has seemed Jones has been determined to make every type of music except that which made her famous. She’s dabbled in country, recorded Everly Brothers duets with Billie Jo Armstrong and, most memorably, collaborated with Danger Mouse on the searing 2012 breakup album Little Broken Hearts.
Sometimes that’s how artists respond to a big success; the other extreme is repeating themselves endlessly. Jones says it wasn’t a calculated strategy.
“It was more that I was starved for something different,” she says. “All of a sudden, I was getting into country music and I was listening to bluegrass and Dolly Parton. I was listening to all sorts of music that interested me and made me want to try different things.”
Norah Jones returns to the spotlight with a new album.