After a cold (which left my voice in bad shape for podcasting) and MinneBar (which was a great pleasure), it’s back to In the Hands! I’m continuing from last time the series of recordings I made recently with soprano Kim Sueoka of songs by Todd Harper.
For several years, Todd has been writing songs full of the sort of jazz changes that are his roots, but as much in the tradition of lieder as anything. He always makes them short, sweet, and very focused — haiku-like — and when he’s setting a text longer than a few lines, he’ll often break it into a chain of very short songs, each only a few words long. I don’t know of anybody who does anything quite like it.
The four songs of this short cycle are almost a sort of “found haiku” — the text is from actual police reports in an unnamed northern Minnesota town. Yes, they are real. No, Todd will not tell you which town it is.
They’re absolutely hilarious — Kim does a perfect deadpan delivery of their painfully earnest description of the mundane and mildly ridiculous things the police in a small town have to deal with. Audiences have different reactions to the humor: when we did them at an ACF Tuesday Salon, the very polite “high art crowd” audience murmured appreciatively at the humor, but seemed to be waiting for permission to laugh; when we did them shortly afterwards at Patrick’s Cabaret, the audience let out such an incredible stream of roars and guffaws, we were barely able to stay together!
There’s something in them beyond the humor, however: a sweetness, a tender love for the world of a small towns. Our sense of scale is relative in all things — space, time, what’s important — and in a little town, a disheveled stranger, a fence knocked down … these things matter. Todd lets the humor in, but it’s not mocking — it’s tender. He’s laughing about what he loves, I think.