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A Subtle Ode to Joy and Hope

On the transfixing "Nile," Valerie Troutt's voice is a thing of rare beauty -- stunning in its deceptive simplicity and expressive without resorting to melismatic melodrama. Troutt approaches her imaginative lyrics with stirring conviction, but she never oversells the song. Fortunately, she doesn't have to, because "Nile" is a ballad blessed with an enchanting melody and arrangement, and brimming with thoughtful, heartfelt optimism.

With lyrics this hopeful and inspiring -- "You'll find joy and love will flow like a river/ No man hath tasted what lies in store for you" -- "Nile" leans closer to gospel than lovers rock. Still, the song never seems mawkish or contrived.

The lyrical content of "Nile" may be steeped in late-20th-century gospel, but its succinct melody and arrangement suggest '70s R&B. Thanks to drummer Sean Rickman's soft brush work, Gregoire Maret's gorgeous harmonica accompaniment, and Troutt's pliant soprano, "Nile" fits comfortably in the modern jazz canon. On top of that, Federico Gonzalez Peña's keyboard work meshes nicely with an ethereal harmonic bed of bassoon, trombone, trumpet, and flugelhorn, all of which push the song into the realm of soulful electronica.

The more the song's complexities are dissected, the more its ingenuity fascinates, but it's always infectiously joyful.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Murph
John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for BETJazz.com. He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.