Primary Instrument: Vocalist
...performances that enchant, surprise and ineffably capture the imagination. Riley's lyrics and Donald's music seem to flow together in a single flood of invention... -- Jazzwise Magazine
Sirena Riley started her first night in London by opening a 'Time Out' magazine and going to the first jazz open mic session she could find. Australian pianist and composer, Tom Donald was the house pianist. They were introduced over a spine-tingling, room-silencing performance of Duke Ellington's ‘Solitude’ that startled even the performers. After eyeing each other suspiciously, they agreed that a collaboration was inevitable. Two years later, their first single, 'Half Moon' was a semi-finalist in the 2008 UK Songwriting competition. And now, the debut song cycle and album, 'The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet' has been released on their own label, Remigrant Records, showcasing what Jazzwise Magazine calls a formidable writing partnership.
An Ellington tune was a fitting platform given that Sirena grew up in a suburb of Washington, DC, birthplace of that illustrious composer. She began singing in choirs as a child and later contributed vocals for several DC bands. She settled on jazz because as she says, “its delicious.” She split for London after meeting several skillful, inspired artists based in Europe and the UK. She felt at home among them, and knew instinctively that London was where she belonged.
'The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet' is the result of a one day recording session featuring a brilliant line up. Reedist, Mark Buckingham, is best described as the bass clarinet’s answer to Eric Dolphy. The vibrant lucidity of double-bassist, Vanessa McGowan joins the band at the hips, while James Kaye’s perceptive percussion adds an uncanny texture to Donald’s obliquely dissonant melodies. Donald’s pianism is at once spatial and complex, orchestrating the unique soundscape. Sirena's vocal performance is a return to straightforward soulfulness from the breathless vulnerability of ‘Reconcile’ to the the edgy, yet catchy ‘Half Moon.’ Her sunburnt voice and poetic, often confrontational lyrics shatter expectations of a jazz vocalist and places these songs into an idiom of modern jazz which attracts music lovers within and well outside of its usual audience. Along with Tom Donald, Sirena is also writing and recording original compositions for the independent film, 'Tangled Up in Blue' (director Haider Rashid) to be released in December 2009 at the Dubai Film Festival.
Sirena has also extended her vocal talents to radio broadcasting. Formerly on UrbanJazz Radio (www.urbanjazzradio.net), she quickly gained a remarkable following with her unique long-form program interviewing musicians from all genres of modern jazz and improvisation. In just a short time on the air, Sirena interviewed multi-award winning saxophonist, Tony Kofi, singer/songwriter/pianist Estelle Kokot. You can catch a few of those shows at http://soundcloud.com/sirenariley. She is now moving on to new broadcasting projects, so watch this space for more information. Behind the mic on stage, or on the air, Sirena Riley is an exciting new voice in modern jazz.
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Awards:2008 UK Songwriting Competition Semi-Finalist 'Half Moon'
Sirena Riley, The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet
Brought up in Washington DC but now London-based, vocalist Sirena Riley marked the first night in her adopted home town by thumbing through a copy of Time Out magazine and going to the first open mic jazz session she could find. There she met the house pianist, Tom Donald, and a performance of Duke Ellington's 'Solitude' sealed a new friendship. Recorded over a single day last year, The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet showcases the work of a formidable writing partnership. From the gently rocking ostinato of 'Perfect Darkness' to the narcotic melancholy of 'Tidal', these are performances that enchant, surprise and ineffably capture the imagination. Riley's lyrics and Donald's music seem to flow together in a single flood of invention, drawing from stylistic wells that reference the eclecticism of Nina Simone, the lyrical acerbity of the Brecht/Weill canon and the soulfulness of Dianne Reeves. 'Blues to Freedom', the hauntingly languorous money track, provides the still centrepiece to a fine collection of songs. Reeds player Mark Buckingham, double bassist Vanessa McGowan and percussionist James Kaye make up the excellent supporting cast. -- Peter Quinn, Jazzwise Magazine
The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet
Tracks: Perfect Darkness; Reconcile; Half Moon; Songstress; Blues to Freedom; Wannabe; A Patient Woman; Slow Burn; Tidal.
Personnel: Tom Donald: Music, Production, Piano.
Mark Buckingham: bflat Clarinet, Alto Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Alto Saxophone
James Kaye: Darbuka, Udu Drum, De-tuned Djembe, Cybals, Shaker
Vanessa McGowan: Double Bass
Joe Davison: Sound Engineer
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