I’ll remember where I was when the album Unsayable by Great Aunt Ida came through my headphones – for a while.
Ida’s album dropped on September 7, 2021, and it’s her first album in ten years.
I started making an easy stir-fry to use up a bunch of veggies that filled the fridge.
A couple hours prior, I had checked the personnel of Unsayable. It has familiar names from the Vancouver creative music scene.
Mark Haney — who plays bass and contributes to track six, “Combination” — produced the Isolation Commissions last year. Meredith Bates is another excellent strings player from the community.
Patsy Klein is a vocalist described as a “hidden gem” by Coastal Jazz, and she sings BGs throughout. The best kind of chamber pop, art-pop, or indie folk comes from a lineup like this one.
I also checked out the Great Aunt Ida interview in the Vancouver Sun by Shawn Conner. Multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Anderson and trumpeter JP Carter, according to Ida, are “people whom [she] used to play with a lot”.
This project won $14,600 in funding from the Canada Council’s Explore and Create: Concept to Realization program in 2019.
The Rilke reference for Great Aunt Ida
In the Bandcamp liner notes, Ida attributes the album title — one word — to a Rilke poem.
I’ve had enough Rilke quoted to me by Cap jazz friends, late enough at night, that I got curious.
I think this passage and translation is the one referenced:
“Ah, but what can we take along
into that other realm? Not the art of looking,
which is learned so slowly, and nothing that happened here. Nothing.
The sufferings, then. And, above all, the heaviness,
and the long experience of love, – just what is wholly
unsayable. But later, among the stars,
what good is it – they are better as they are: unsayable.
“For when the traveler returns from the mountain-slopes into the valley,
he brings, not a handful of earth, unsayable to others, but instead
some word he has gained, some pure word, the yellow and blue
gentian.” Rainer Maria Rilke, The Ninth Duino Elegy (Translated by Stephen Mitchell)
Okay, so back to when I started cooking. That’s when the first track “Shoes” hit me. What a tour de force!
Back to the stir-fry
It sounds like a three-chords-and-the-truth affair that will turn around nicely. Then it floats away to another chord, and we’re not where we thought we were. But then we’re back! And we’re then lost again, of course.
There’s something about sneaking into B major that can always evoke OK Computer 90s rock, but I digress.
I love the rhythm section’s soft timekeeping on the second track, “Spider” — which is Ida’s track pick on Bandcamp. Carter’s surreal trumpet playing is haunting here.
At this point, I couldn’t listen to this album anymore while cooking. I was home alone, and I felt so, so alone with this sensitive music.
It was beautiful, though, so I resolved to get back to it first thing in the morning. And here I am!
Ida never fails to be thoughtful about melody and how it plays off of her arrangements. It makes for immersive listening. The thick piano voicings (“Collector” has the best) carry a lot of the weight, allowing the drums to be light.
Louder moments rarely come from Ida’s voice — instead from turning up the instrumentals from the all-star creative musicians. The repetitive, distorted guitar solo on “Combination” is a climax.
The mix of bass clarinet and strings on “Collector” is pleasant, and that takes me to “Open Water”. On the final track, the piano is the most suspended. At this point I felt there was basically just one drum beat, guided through the twists of each arrangement.
Then I went back to track one, ready to feel lonely with Great Aunt Ida all over again.