The Happiness Project - 2009
The Happiness Project is just about as high-concept as an album gets, with this concept extending both to the thematic content as well as the musical execution. Spearin interviewed people in his Toronto neighborhood of Seaton Village on the subject of happiness. He then took portions of those interviews that stood out both in terms of content and vocal quality -- interesting cadence and tone -- and developed those portions into the bases for fully developed pieces of music. The result is jazzy, uplifting, and totally unique.
Some of the interviewees take the subject on directly. Others address a single aspect, something experienced. A few go off the rails altogether, but Spearin isolates a piece of vocal cadence that explodes the character of the speaker and makes the sensation of happiness universal and immediately personal. My personal favorite is "Vanessa," in which a woman, born deaf, talks about her experiences before and after receiving a cochlear implant. The sound of her voice changes when she talks about the experience, and the music evokes the sensation of that change. It's a stunningly beautiful communication of the experience that reaches the listener in a very direct and personal way. It's not just about a feeling, it is a feeling. It's like... documusic.
It's a little hard to wax eloquent about The Happiness Project because it's so directly experienced. Because the tunes aren't constructed the way one would ordinarily create music, they aren't necessarily catchy in the way you'd expect from other music, although there certainly is one that comes back to me in the days after I listen to the album, and that's the raucous careening of a child's activity as expressed through the rhythm of her voice and related through the bouncing tones of a baritone saxophone. Vittoria's "like"ing and "um"ing creates a sort of swinging drunken jazz that's both fitting and catchy.
The album won a Juno Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 2010, but let's face it, how often do you hear about jazz awards, much less Canadian ones? It's still pretty niche, but I think the cross-sectio of people who would enjoy it goes far beyond those who are likely to have heard of it. Spearin is involved in a number of musical projects including Toronto alt-rock band/musical collective Broken Social Scene, but I really hope that he doesn't leave this concept as a one-off. It's an idea that could be dramatically expanded through subsequent "projects." I just love this music, and like Spearin's neighbor Mrs. Morris who opens and closes the album, I have to say "Yes! I'm feelin' happy!"