Emilie-Claire Barlow reimagines jazz at its finest

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Emilie-Claire Barlow

Getting an album made is an impressive feat for any musician. For Emilie-Claire Barlow, releasing her 11th jazz album should have been a piece of cake, right? The Canadian jazz vocalist has grown and refined her musical sound over the years, but the process for her latest album was a long one in the making. Four years in fact! The album was a truly international project with musical arrangements written in Mexico, the orchestra recorded in Amsterdam, Barlow’s band playing in Toronto and some of the final vocals recorded before a small audience in Montreal. The end result is Clear Day, an album earning rave reviews from critics and fans alike as well as two Juno nominations this year for Jazz Vocal Album of the Year and Producer of the Year (co-produced with her partner Steve Webster).

“I’m proud that we got [the album] done!” says Emilie-Claire. “There are many musical elements on this album that I’m proud of, but the fact that we even finished it is a triumph in my opinion. There are over 80 musicians involved. It was a logistical, technical feat. It required months and months of writing, traveling, proofreading orchestral scores and parts. [It was] a huge investment personally, musically, and financially. I challenged myself as a singer, arranger, and producer. I’m thrilled that it’s been received so well!”

Clear Day weaves together traditional jazz with mainstream pop to create an exquisite album. It includes beautiful reinterpretations of popular songs from artists such as Coldplay and David Bowie. She credits being an arranger as the source of her creativity. “The album has a strong narrative that comes from a personal story. The vocal performance weaves these eras and genres together and brings them into a modern and cohesive place. [I like] to take a song and re-imagine it, to discover something new in the melody, to surprise people,” she says.

The recognition in the Producer of the Year category is also noteworthy as Emilie-Claire is only the 5th female producer to be nominated in the last 10 years.  This includes kd lang in 2012, Sarah Harmer in 2011, Joni Mitchell in 2008 and Jann Arden in 2006. If you want to go back even further, you can also include Alanis Morissette, Nelly Furtado, Jane Siberry, Loreena McKennitt, Jane Child, and Dalbello since 1978. That’s makes for only 11 female producers in 38 years. While certainly notable, Emilie-Claire places a bigger emphasis on the music and doesn’t make a big deal of the stats.

“I’m thrilled that the Junos are recognizing a jazz recording in the Production category, that’s extremely rare,” says the singer. “It’s more about genre than gender – my “lady bits” have nothing to do with it – the fact that I’m a jazz musician is much more noteworthy. I think that the Juno Awards accurately reflect the ratio of men to women in the Canadian industry. It’s possible that women simply aren’t drawn to engineering or production in the same way that men are, and that’s ok.”

Doing double-duty is in fact what Emilie-Claire pulls off with the recordings, wearing both producer and singer hats in creating Clear Day. “The stage is where I’m most comfortable. But I’ve pushed myself really hard to get [to producing]. I produce because it’s what I need to do to make the kind of music I want to make — the two jobs serve each other,” she explains. “Everything I do, including producing, is in service of putting myself on a stage in front of people to sing.”

Emilie Claire Barlow will be performing at the Ironwood on Friday, April 1 and participating in the MusiCounts producer panel on Saturday, April 2. The 2016 Juno Awards will air live from the Saddledome in Calgary on Sunday, April 3.


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