Kim Arrington never planned for her second album to spend five years in gestation. But a lot has come apart and subsequently together for the Durham singer-songwriter since her sassy 2008 debut, First Love Note of Kim Arrington.
Back then, for instance, pianist and arranger Victor Moore was simply her sideman; now they are engaged. Their deeper musical connection is but one life change reflected on her new follow-up, Getting II Yes.
"We never keep track of who had the idea. Sometimes we have ideas at the same time. It's actually creepy cool," Arrington says.
While she and Moore now finish each other's thoughts and sentences, Arrington admits that this seamless communication didn't happen overnight.
"It was kind of bumpy at first," she says. "It was hard to separate work from the relationship. We fussed and talked through it, and finally got to the point where we just really trust each other."
Getting II Yes was bumpy at first, too. During the recording process, she had to confront doubts and disappointments, including several bouts of laryngitis that pushed studio time back for months. In fact, the album serves as a sort of audio diary for the five years of soul searching that separate her two records. In early 2010, just before she and Moore got together, Arrington went through—if not a deep depression—a spiritual reboot.
"I decided to not work for awhile, so I could just get some things straight in my head," she says. "I just let myself feel all of it."
Among the old sorrows through which she needed to work: the devastating loss of her father when Arrington was just 10 years old.
"I didn't realize that I was walking in it. I went right through it. And I realized that I want people to know resisting your pain doesn't make it better. On the other end is that bit of peace," Arrington says. "Do I let myself go for what I want? And that's why the CD is called Getting II Yes, because I do get to go for it. You get to go for your yes. This is my yes."
Getting II Yes brandishes new connections and joys: "Tippy Toes," for instance, features vocals by Moore's two children from a previous relationship. With its warm, homemade essence, Getting II Yes is a true North Carolina album, too, reflective not just of Arrington and Moore's personal journeys but the Triangle musical community that shaped them. The two met as undergraduates at North Carolina Central University in the '90s. Many of their musician friends from those years joined them for the album's sessions.
"It's a huge Central connection, because even if you didn't come out of Central, you played with people who came out of Central, and you're still playing with people who came out of Central," Arrington offers. For her, the linchpin is Ira Wiggins, a Cental graduate and the longtime director of the school's jazz program. "Dr. Wiggins has imparted a certain integrity amongst so many of these musicians. There is something about him that you can feel on every musician who's come in contact with him."
The Central ties extend to cellist and associate professor Timothy Holley, alto saxophonist Bluford Thompson Jr., drummer Larry Q. Draughan Jr. and conguero Brevan Hampden.
Trumpeter Al Strong, now an adjunct professor at Central, joined the Getting II Yes sessions to play and arrange horns. For him, the connections within Durham jazz are more family than friends.
"Victor's like my brother," he says. "He was one of the first musicians when I got to Central that would put me on gigs, and basically I learned how to play from playing with guys like him early on."
Meanwhile, Arrington invited vocalist Mark Wells, of retrofitted jazz outfit Peter Lamb and the Wolves, to help pull off the album's biggest accomplishment: a must-hear duo version of Morris Albert's 1974 hit "Feelings," de-cheesed and made fresh with hip-hop and swing underpinnings.
"['Feelings'] was only on the edges of my consciousness. I think Kim just kind of had an epiphany that it would be great if we did it together, so I just ran with it," Wells says. The album's two other covers, "Control" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," also reflect Arrington's attitude toward the generation of soul and jazz performers who came of age in the '70s and '80s. For her, jazz isn't a museum piece but a living continuum that connects back to pop and rock and everything else it's influenced.
"I wasn't interested in doing [Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan] standards," she says. "Janet Jackson, Tears for Fears, those are the standards of my time."
Co-writer and arranger Moore enjoys the challenge of vivifying the covers in unexpected ways: "How can I make this song hip? That's the challenge," he says. He recasts "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" in 7/4 meter. He often uses a "bed of sound" approach, too, adding textured layers of Hammond B3 organ and Rhodes piano, reflecting his gospel music upbringing in rural Robersonville, N.C.
Whereas Love Notes foregrounded Arrington's vocals against an instrumental background, Getting II Yes demonstrates a mature ensemble awareness, with Arrington's voice yielding to the instrumentalists as equals. The result is a sophisticated and unified album sound, full of subtlety and revelation. It shows the five-year process—the struggles, the joys, the actualization—that led to these songs.
"This music requires commitment, and deepening commitment," Arrington says. "It had to have that kind of luster on it or it wasn't going to shine."
This article appeared in print with the headline "True Tone."