Anjani Thomas has been writing and recording since the 1980s after graduating from the Berklee College of Music.
A skilled jazz pianist, her break came from her mentor, Leonard Cohen (with whom she has been working since 1984), when she sang on the wonderful "Hallelujah" on Cohen's 1985 Various Positions LP.
Most recently Anjani played such an integral part of Lenny's tremendous 2004 recording, Dear Heather, where she sang, played keyboards and co-wrote two of the songs.
On her Columbia debut Blue Alert , Thomas again draws upon the genius of Leonard Cohen and they pair up fantastically well once more.
Anjani co-wrote and/or finished previous fragments of unpublished Cohen poems, lyrics from songs, and pieces in his notebooks and journals. Lenny then produced the album.
The lyrics are of course superb throughout the entire album, no less than you would expect from that greatest of lyricists Laughing Lenny!
The result is a sultry, smoky, spiritual record, where flesh and heart are not separate entities but intertwine and whisper together.
The record begins with a soft yet pronounced exhale and a piano chord by Anjani, and she sings these typically Leonard lyrics:
There's perfume burning in the air
Bits of beauty everywhere
Soldier hit the dirt
She comes so close you feel her then
She tells you no
And no again
Your lip is cut
On the edge of her pleated skirt
It's a song of fiery hazing desire and the dark disappointment of desire thwarted:
It's just another night I guess
Another night of nakedness
You even touch yourself
You're such a flirt
This is torch singing on an entirely new level. Her piano playing is carved in Bill Evans harmonics, and the melodic invention that comes simultaneously from George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal, and even Vince Guaraldi.
The music is inherently sexy, but that's only the surface. Skin is the entity easily witnessed and categorised but spirit is the house it comes from.
In "Innermost Door", with a an easy, skeletal blues frame, Anjani brings home the real fabric and the oft-futile yet unfaltering hope of heartbreak.
I must go back to the place it began
To the place where I was a woman
And you were a man
If you come with me
I'll never begin
This album is a difficult journey to somewhere. A journey through love and the shadows of love.
A journey thorned with lust, need, sex, sin, redemption, revelation, regret, gratitude. A journey where the spirit grows or shrinks or hides, where it mutates with the state of love.
A journey where the coming together and breaking apart of relations are all powerful, enduring and transforming according to circumstance. A journey where nothing is coincidence.
This is the journey where, as the old Portuguese proverb says, "God writes straight with crooked lines."
The beautifully spare instrumentation on this album is wonderful.
On "Half the Perfect World" Anjani plays a beautiful jazz figure, gently swinging, on the classical guitar, underscoring a most beautiful song of memory and loss as absorbed in the present.
In "Blue Alert" there's a baritone saxophone; on the country-tinged lounge tune "Never Got to Love You" Thomas' piano waltz is accompanied by the lap steel of ace studio musician Greg Leisz and Danny Frankel's soft touch on the drum kit.
There are strings on "Crazy to Love You" and a clarinet and electric keyboards on the amazing "Thanks for the Dance", one of the most startling songs on this LP and also the one which closes it.
The sparse arrangements and instrumentation are important because Thomas' voice is an instrument in itself.
A voice that goes beyond the words and the melodies that carry it to the fore. A voice from the innermost centre, not so much deep as full and primal.
"The Mist", another waltz, sounds like a Celtic folk song sung from the weeping face of wild hills into angry crashing seas:
As the mist leaves no scar
On the dark green hill
So my body leaves no scar
On you, nor ever will
As the many nights endure
Without a moon or star
So we will endure
When one is gone and far
Finally, there is "Thanks for the Dance," an old-timey lounge tune. It feels like closing time on love, but love endures and is acknowledged as something so much deeper that cannot be understood in the moment:
And there's nothing to do
But to wonder if you
Are as hopeless as me
And as decent
We're joined in the spirit
Joined at the hip
Joined in the panic
We've come to some sort
Yes, as the song says we've come to some sort of agreement. And the agreement, the partnership between Thomas and Cohen, is thus the blossoming of a brave artist who dares to work with one of the greatest artists of all time and establish a voice unmistakably her own: profound, unfettered, sensual, spiritual, and poetically impure — elegant and tattered, spiritually drunken and inherently beautiful.
Above all it is a truly honest voice that articulates the heart's cryptic language - sometimes rough, often confounding, and always dangerous, with an elegance and a grace that only reveals the terrible beautiful truth of itself in the emptiness of trying to sleep at 4 a.m. on a tear-soaked pillow, alone.
Check out Anjani's website; www.anjani-music.com