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Norah Jones, 20 years on...

Door Stéphane Ollivier |

To celebrate two decades, the American star's first album is released in a Super Deluxe Edition full of unreleased material...

When it was released in February 2002 on the prestigious Blue Note label, Come Away With Me had the effect of a soft earthquake that suddenly shook the codes of popular vocal music, without anyone understanding at the time, the magnitude of its effect. Operating as a sort of subtle synthesis between Americana, jazz and pop, without fully belonging to any of these great established genres, this very first record by a totally unknown 22 year old singer imposed its "familiar strangeness" with such obviousness that it seemed almost inconceivable that it was anything other than the fruit of a miraculous spontaneous generation devoid of any precise intention.

On the 20th anniversary of this mythical record, Blue Note have imaged a beautiful box set to lift the curtain on this mythical record which propelled Norah Jones overnight to the firmament of the world's "chanson" stars. In a sort of archaeological dive into the sources of its genesis, this Super Deluxe edition reveals to us the torments and uncertainties which presided over the original album's creation by publishing the different stages of the high-precision work which finally led to its realization.

In addition to the fully remastered reissue of the original album, which on re-listening has lost none of its charm or dreamy timelessness, this Super Deluxe Edition offers no less than 22 completely unreleased tracks in two additional albums, placing it chronologically in its context. In addition to the three songs that Norah Jones recorded alone on the piano as demos and that allowed her to be signed by the label, the second album is mainly composed of the first session that she recorded following this signature. Accompanied by the guitarist and songwriter Jesse Harris, author of a good part of the original songs such as Don't Know Why, and the future hit Come Away With Me, Norah Jones appears from the outset astonishingly professional and musical. She shows the maturity of her voice, mixing clarity, power, ingenuity and rhythmic precision, and her understanding of the piano accompaniment, which is always very elegant in its understatement.

However, it's probably the third disc offering for the first time in its entirety the first version of the album, conceived under the guidance of producer Craig Street (at the time in the shadow of his work with singer Cassandra Wilson on the album New Moon Daughter]) and ultimately abandoned despite its undeniable intrinsic qualities, which gives this Super Deluxe edition its price by showing to what extent the "natural sophistication" of the final version produced by Arif Mardin was decidedly less the fruit of a happy accident than of a work of elaboration and formal purification of great precision. Where Craig Street, through literally "integrating" Norah Jones' voice and piano into the setting of a star-studded orchestra (Bill Frisell, Brian Blade), puts the guitar in the foreground and offered a darker and more dramatic version of the songs, Mardin lightens and airs the arrangements. Mardin imperceptibly slows down the tempos, adds backing vocals and, above all, puts the voice and the piano back at the centre of the game, giving the whole thing more fluidity, more glamour and a slight emotional distancing which, in the end, will impose itself as the singer's true vocal signature.

In 2016, Qobuz met Norah Jones for the release of Day Breaks. An interview in which the pianist and singer talked about her personal artistic evolution and her relationship with jazz:



LISTEN TO "COME AWAY WITH ME (SUPER DELUXE EDITION)" BY NORAH JONES ON QOBUZ