Inside Blue Alert
"Anjani has always been known as a great singer, a musician's singer," says Leonard Cohen, the musical/literary legend who co-wrote and produced Anjani's Blue Alert. "She's known for this impeccable sense of tone and the ability to stack vocals one on top of the other, but this voice that she was showing here was a completely different voice that had moved somehow from the throat to the heart."
"I never knew we were making a record," Anjani confesses. "I just thought I'd make a demo for Leonard to put his vocals on." But Blue Alert was patiently waiting in the ether for their inspired collaboration. It began with some handwritten lines [there's perfume burning in the air/bits of beauty everywhere] which Anjani happened to notice on Cohen's desk. This was the first draft of "Blue Alert," which Cohen intended to record himself. Surprising herself, Anjani asked, "Can I have a crack at this?" He replied, "You can have it for a minute or two, and then you have to return it."
Anjani made a quick dash to the studio to set down a track for Cohen's new poem, and she presented it to him wrapped in a disarming caveat. "Leonard," she said, "I don't know if you'll like a jazz approach…but check this out."
Hearing Anjani's soulful and evocative interpretation of "Blue Alert," Cohen knew that something unusual had happened. "She was singing from a place that few singers ever get to sing from," he recalls, "so that encouraged me to let her rummage through a notebook for lyrics that interested her."
For Anjani, being given access to the works and the collaborative energies of a literary master opened a floodgate of creativity. She felt herself especially drawn to "As the Mist Leaves No Scar," a poem in Stranger Music, Leonard's 1993 collection of poems and lyrics, which she transformed into "The Mist," conjuring a haunting archetypal score for the song. "I don't know where she found that melody or that approach," Cohen wondered, "but it is as though I'd never heard that lyric before or, more precisely, it is where I'd always heard it somewhere but had never been able to locate."
An album was taking shape, but Anjani needed more material. With Cohen's permission she ransacked boxes of his journals, unpublished works and unfinished drafts, sometimes seizing on a mere two or three lines or a verse that appealed to her.
The song, "Thanks For The Dance," for instance, began as a single found line, which Anjani and Leonard fashioned into a new complete work. "That's how it moved from one song to another [with] Anjani finding scraps of lyrics and pressing me to finish them," Cohen explains.
One of those high points is "Innermost Door," which Cohen describes as "...something irreversible, but something inevitable. 'Saying goodbye/at the innermost door,' I suppose that has a certain finality, but a certain appropriateness too. I don't know what it means," Cohen confesses. "[but] Anjani brings the lyric to life."
When it came time to record Blue Alert, Anjani and Leonard opted to work at the studio of Ed Sanders, who recorded the album on a vintage Telefunken analog tape recorder spinning a two-inch seatbelt of tape. The warm, rich sound they achieved captures the whispered subtleties of Anjani's vocal cadences and the intimate qualities of her music. Anjani states, "I love the sound of analog recording. I'm an old-fashioned girl and I like to see the tape go round and round."
That "old-fashioned girl" was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and trained in guitar, piano and voice before attending Berklee College of Music. Later moving to Manhattan, Anjani played the jazz club circuit, drawing inspiration from pianists ranging from populist Vince Guaraldi to jazz mystic Bill Evans. Anjani was introduced to Leonard Cohen in 1984, by producer John Lissauer (who plays baritone sax on the title track, and clarinet and keyboards on "Thanks For The Dance"). Her haunting background vocals are heard on Cohen's original recording of his signature opus, "Hallelujah." Later that year, Anjani joined Cohen's Various Positions World Tour as a keyboardist/vocalist, and she sang on subsequent Leonard Cohen albums including I'm Your Man (1988), The Future (1992), and Dear Heather (2004).
In 2000, Anjani released a self-titled independent CD, blending jazz, folk and Hawaiian influences, including a duet with famed Hawaiian musician Henry Kapono. She followed her debut a year later with The Sacred Names, an inspirational meditation on the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek names of God.
"She seems to be able to channel some kind of spirit of place," Leonard Cohen says of his colleague. "Generally, people want to be generous, but they go over the top or they give too much. But to be able to be generous in this manner of real generosity, which is not to overwhelm, but to merely satisfy and nourish: that is something very rare. She has this capacity -- melody after melody -- to hit the mark. Not go beyond it and not fall short… just perfect."