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In 'Heart Tonic,' Caroline Davis Added Influences Of Irregular Heart Rhythms

Originally published on April 13, 2018 8:38 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In 2013, jazz composer and alto saxophonist Caroline Davis got some troubling news. Her father had a potentially dangerous condition - arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. Her concern for him led to a unique musical response and eventually her new album. Michelle Mercer has this review.

MICHELLE MERCER, BYLINE: Caroline Davis has a Ph.D. in music cognition. So when her father was diagnosed with arrhythmia, she became interested in how inconsistent heart rhythms could affect her father in ways he might not even realize.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARTBEAT)

MERCER: Davis put on headphones and listened to erratic heartbeats at high volume until she felt the tension of jagged rhythms in her own body.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARTBEAT)

MERCER: Then Davis began composing the music that became "Heart Tonic," her new album. On this tune, "Footloose And Fancy Free," a cyclical baseline represents a ventricular rhythm, a rhythm of a human heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE DAVIS' "FOOTLOOSE AND FANCY FREE")

MERCER: As she learned of her father's diagnosis, Davis was in the middle of a disruptive change herself - a move to New York, a city that placed new demands on her as an artist.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE DAVIS' "OCEAN MOTION")

MERCER: On this tune, "Ocean Motion," Davis connects her adaptation to New York with a heart's adjustment to a normal pattern. Here, a stuttering, fitful bass pulse finds a more regular groove.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE DAVIS' "OCEAN MOTION")

MERCER: Finding her place in a new city helped Davis empathize with her father's condition as he underwent treatment and began his recovery.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE DAVIS' "PENELOPE")

MERCER: Along with its exploration of the heart's biology, this album uses the heart as a metaphor for bravery and sympathy. We hear that on the waltzing "Fortune," where Davis' saxophone commands a strong melody while also swaying into a familiar harmony and soothing rhythm.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE DAVIS' "PENELOPE")

MERCER: The thing is, even if we don't recognize rhythmic effects on "Heart Tonic," we feel them as Caroline Davis explores both symptoms and cures for some physical and emotional challenges. And thanks to Davis' sensitivity and skill, it makes for an album of big-hearted and beautiful music.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE DAVIS' "PENELOPE")

CORNISH: The album is "Heart Tonic" by Caroline Davis. Our reviewer is Michelle Mercer.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE DAVIS' "PENELOPE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.