Wax Poetic: Trip-Hop with Heart


Gabriel Gordon, Sissy Clemens, and Ilhan Ersahin of Wax Poetic.

Before her breakout album Come Away with Me, Norah Jones sang for New York City band Wax Poetic. Arriving in the U.S. in his late teens in 1986, Swedish-Turkish immigrant Ilhan Ersahin enrolled briefly in the Berklee School of Music in Boston. But his desire for performance impelled him to move to New York City. After years of playing the local scene and developing his craft, he formed Wax Poetic in 1997. In the band’s latest incarnation, Wax Poetic consists of Gabriel Gordon (guitar), Sissy Clemens (vocals), and Ersahin (keys and sax), along with guest instrumentalists and singers.

In 2002, Ersahin opened a club named Nublu in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which quickly became a free-spirited venue for musicians experimenting with fusing world and jazz styles. From the Nublu platform, Ersahin blossomed. Over recent years, his collaborations have included Wax Poetic, Love Trio, Wonderland, and Istanbul Sessions.

Wax Poetic’s 2012 album On a Ride  illustrates Ersahin’s collaborative genius both instrumentally and vocally, with five singers taking the lead on different tracks.  DirectCurrentMusic.com describes the CD as “a Zero 7-ish collection of jazzy chill-out with a warm, beating heart.” For me, the album feels like a companion to 2008’s Dive Deep from Morcheeba, with its delightful, down-tempo delivery enhanced by keyboards, subtle bass, dreamy electric guitar, and excellent engagement of outside vocalists to carve out new territory for the band.

The primary lead vocalists on WP’s album are Sissy Clemens, Natalie Walker, and Gabriel Gordon. Additionally, Norah Jones and Italy’s operatic savant Jovanni each contribute single track leads. Perhaps the biggest stir has been surrounding Pennsylvania newcomer Sissy Clemens, who sings with confidence and nuance. In 2003 she moved to NYC to attend the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, where she received a BFA in vocal jazz performance. In recent years, she has continued to collaborate with Ersahin.

On “No Escape,” bass and drum set the mood for Sissy’s vocals. Feelings of entrapment and love mingle within the lyrical soundscape: “There’s just no escaping the mess I’m in. . . . so I am crying . . . I just can’t push you away.” On “Tonight,” Sissy’s voice soars above the electro-acoustic backdrop laid down by Ersahin and bandmates. Finally, the title track moves more into pop territory but with just enough edge to keep it interesting. Sissy Clemens seems destined for her own niche in music history.

When Natalie Walker takes the vocal lead on “Warm Night” and “Beautiful,” we experience why this Indiana girl is considered an emerging diva. She sings with clarity and charm, beckoning us to surrender to her spell.

The third lead singer is Gabriel Gordon, guitarist on most of the album and singer on three tracks. Earlier he was a tour manager for jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux.  He also collaborated for 15 years with Natalie Merchant. On “East Side,” Gabriel’s guitar and upbeat percussion provide a lifting complement to rest of the album. Listen closely to the guitar phrasing and note-bending delicacy that so richly enhances his vocal delivery.

Do yourself a favor and sink deeply into the Wax Poetic’s On a Ride.

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