December 2004 back
Cassandra Wilson : December 28th at The Blue Note
When I think of what it is that I like about Cassandra Wilson, it's a long list that goes well beyond her voice. Of course, her deep sensual contralto voice is high on that list but you'll also find her smile, the joy in her face when she performs, her incredible band, her arrangements and especially her song selections.
I'm always fascinated when a jazz artist takes a familiar song and gives it a treatment that you would never anticipate. No one does that better than Cassandra Wilson. She opened with a Caribbean sounding original tune called Drunk As Cooter Brown followed by Jimmy Webb's Wichita Lineman after which my friend Joseph exclaimed "They're great!" (That reaction was one small contribution to a great evening). The Jimmy Webb tune was a major hit for Glen Cambell in the 60's and it's safe to say that Cassandra's version was slower and more sensual.
Some other familiar tunes included Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time and Bob Dylan's Lay Lady Lay. Like Cooter Brown, the Dylan tune also had an Afro Caribbean feel. Some jazz purists might actually complain about her song selection but it's one of the things I like most about her. Her music has many influences beyond jazz including roots rock, folk, blues and Latin music among others. On her albums you'll find covers of Sting, U-2, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, James Taylor, Van Morrison and Hank Williams, to name just a few. Many of her covers weren't particularly jazzy when they were written, but they are now.
The band consisted of Marvin Sewell on guitars, Reginald Veal on acoustic bass, Jeffrey Haines on percussion and Gregiore Maret on harmonica. Impressive all.
On top of a great singer, great band and even a really good hamburger, we had the added pleasure of sitting with Jeanne Beker and her two beautiful daughters, both of whom apparently have music and theater in their blood. Jeanne is editor of FQ Magazine in Toronto and hosts "Fashion Television" on the Style channel. They were great company and seemed to enjoy the show as much as Joseph and me.
On the ride home Joseph asked me which albums he should buy first and already informed me that he'll be going with me the next time I see Cassandra. I think he liked her. You know I did.
Kameko and Yahzarah : Dec 14th at Joe's Pub
Last month we went to see the Garth Fagan Dance Company and sat next to a young, good looking black man who had dreadlocks almost down to his belt. We struck up a conversation with him and discovered that he was a recording artist named Kameko. Maybe it was because he was so friendly and polite, or that he seemed so humble, but I knew right then that I wanted to see him perform. Judy was equally intrigued. We hadn't heard a single note of his music, but somehow that didn't matter.
Kameko has a high pitched and slightly nasal voice not unlike Prince (The vocals in Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry also come to mind). For some, I think his voice might take a little getting used to, but it's worth the effort. He's got impressive range and I'm sure that he hit some notes never before visited by the artist formerly known as symbol.
His songs show a wide range of influences from avant-garde rock and pop, to soul, funk, world beats and reggae. The comparisons to Prince are obvious but I would venture to guess that he's spent as much time with The Beatles, Lou Reed and David Bowie as he has with The Commodores, Bootsy Collins and George Clinton as well as the great soul singers like Al Green and Marvin Gaye. The songs have good rhythms and melodies but he also has something to say as indicated by song titles such as No More War and Love Is The Only Way.
The band was so good that they could play with anybody and I was particularly impressed with the two girls singing backup. The vocal arrangements, at times with synchronized movements, may have been my favorite part of the show. The balance of the group consisted of keyboard, guitar, upright bass, drums and percussionist.
After the set, Kameko was walking through the crowd and when he saw me, he got this delighted look on his face, shook my hand and enthusiastically thanked me for coming (It was worth coming just for that). This will not be the last time you find me at a Kameko show. That is my ultimate endorsement.
That could have been the ending of a great evening, but Yazahrah had yet to perform. She's a former backup singer for Eryka Badu who's been described as a soul and funk diva with Tina Turneresque energy. That's a pretty good description except to add that her incredible range was very reminiscent of Minnie Riperton of Loving You fame. She had great stage presence and lots of personality. When she did a little go-go dancer routine with a guy in front of the stage, sitting on his lap and running her fingers through his hair, I dryly said to my new friend, Wordell, that maybe we should have sat up there. We both had a good laugh. (Judy had reluctantly bailed out at the last minute because she wasn't feeling well and Wordell walked up to me in front of Joe's Pub and asked where to get tickets (Sometimes I can't believe it myself).
Yazahrah also had a great band and a couple of her songs had that certain something that make them easy to imagine on the radio (She's also got the flattest stomach in show biz making her a good candidate for video). I think we'll be hearing more from both of these artists.
Raul Midon : December 8th at Joe's Pub
If you'd like to see the birth of a star, you can see pictures from the Hubble Telescope at various sites on line, or you can go to Joe's Pub where Raul will be playing quite a few gigs over the next few months. You probably already know how much I admire his talent, considering the number of times I've seen him over the last two years, but this was the show that convinced me that there will be no stopping him.
He's just finished recording his new CD for Blue Note/Manhattan Records which was produced by the legendary Arif and Joe Mardin (Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan...) and will be released in May. He played several of the new songs and they all knocked my socks off, especially Mystery Girl and I've Waited My Whole Life For You. Both were soulful jazzy ballads with his trademark syncopated guitar work. We also had the pleasure of hearing the stories of how Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz ended up playing on the album.
The first time I saw Raul, there were maybe fifty people in Joe's Pub. For this show it was sold out (maybe 200) and he got a rousing standing ovation at the end of the set. It was electrifying and a portent of things to come. My friend Mabelle commented "This guy's really happening". I agree, but you should come see for yourself. (You can read more specifics in my many previous reviews.)
I walked over to The Bowery Ballroom after the set to see if I could get in to see Citizen Cope but it was sold out. But that's OK, sleep does have it's advantages.