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Visions proves Norah Jones is still in constant motion


Release date: 08 March 2024
Norah Jones Visions cover
07 March 2024, 15:00 Written by Quentin Harrison

Everything began for Norah Jones with a quiet, but compelling strike just over two decades ago.

“Don’t Know Why,” her inaugural single on the Blue Note label, stood in sharp relief to the busier music storming the charts at the top of 2002. The mellow pop mesmerism Jones cast on that tune was even more enthralling via Come Away with Me, the album that housed “Don’t Know Why.” Shifting over 27 million units globally, the long player’s multi-platinum score was simultaneously complimented by its positive critical notices.

Her equally accomplished sophomore affair Feels Like Home (2004) quickly manifested with further commercial and critical accolades following, but whispers of supposed artistic limitations started circulating too. On her next three albumsNot Too Late (2006), The Fall (2009) and Little Broken Hearts (2012) – Jones tinkered at her sound, reconfiguring it into a bold fusion of country, indie-pop, rock, and more; through it all she maintained her jazz core.

What followed that enterprising triptych were even more virtuosic endeavours.

Enter Visions, Jones’ ninth studio album with Blue Note and first of original fare since her criminally-overlooked seventh set Pick Me Up Off the Floor (2020). Yes, it is another masterclass from the songstress. This isn’t surprising though – Jones’ lyricism, superlative abilities on the piano and guitar, and skills as a vocalist, have ensured that every outing is an exciting experience.

Over her anterior efforts, those recruited to pilot her recordings have never been less than excellent: the late Arif Mardin, Lee Alexander, Jacquire King, Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, Eli Wolf, Jeff Tweedy, and writer-producer-multi-instrumentalist Leon Michels – it’s an impressive roster.

This time around Jones invited Michels back into the fold to helm Visions. The pair had previously intersected when he contributed tenor saxophone to her sixth LP Day Breaks (2016) and the aforementioned Pick Me Up Off the Floor. Later, Michels was promoted to captain her first holiday package (and eighth collection overall) I Dream of Christmas (2021). She recently remarked in conversation with Don Was, tunesmith-turned-president of the Blue Note imprint, “I felt so comfortable with Leon Michels who produced the record. [...] we were just throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck, and most of it stuck because it was just really fun to make music together.”

Songwriting duties are divided fairly between the two who co-pen the bulk of the stock featured on Visions; the tracklisting rounds up from 12 to 13 tracks with the inclusion of “Until My Heart Is Found” on the Target exclusive edition. Jones pens three entries – “Queen of the Sea,” the title track, “I’m Awake” – whilst making room for additional co-writing input from esteemed New York City players Pete Remm and Homer Steinweiss.

All said, Visions has Jones continuing to expand on the progressive jazz-pop blend she’s been sharpening since Not Too Late. By nature, experimentation usually leads to roads less traveled, but how does one maintain the freshness of this approach sans overindulgence after 17 years? Allied with Michels, Jones balances compositional specificity and improvisation – dichotomous elements to be sure – to create a dual atmosphere of taut craftsmanship and jam session-like freedom. This provides Jones with room to dart between blues, exotica, Italo-western, and soul.

Filmic selections like “Staring at the Wall,” “Visions,” “Swept Up in the Night” and “On My Way” demonstrate the effectiveness of these genres being actioned in a thrilling outré mix.

Jones acquits herself to them all perfectly. Regarding her voice, she remains nonpareil, smokily evocative one moment (“All This Time”), emotionally affecting the next (“That’s Life”). As a pianist, Jones platforms her chops beautifully across “Paradise” and “Running.”

Narratively, these pieces – and the whole of Visions – are about the human experience, all love life, flesh, blood, heart and spirit. Jones isn’t as downbeat as she was on Pick Me Up Off the Floor, there is light to be had here; sensuous-to-escapist sentiments pervade some of these scripts per “Queen of the Sea” and “I Just Wanna Dance.” Be warned though! Some pensive shadows lurk on the wax à la “I’m Awake” and “Alone with My Thoughts.” But Jones places a premium on tonal variance and equilibrium throughout Visions; it’s a wise chess move, ensuring an absorbing listen with every spin.

Nine records in, Norah Jones has lost none of her magic that captured audiences with her blockbusting debut. Refusing to remain fixed in solely one creative position, she is a woman in constant motion, her work bursting with sonic colour and verve – and we love her for it still.

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