JULY 2006            back

Dianne Reeves : July 25th at World Financial Plaza (Chiara Civello opening)

My inclination is to say that Dianne Reeves is the best female vocalist walking the planet today, but I understand how variances of taste and opinion could lead to countless other nominations so what I will say is that among my favorite female vocalists in any genre, there is not one that I would describe as a more talented vocalist. Considering that her last three releases have all won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, a feat never previously accomplished in any category, I'd say I'm not alone in my assessment.

You may also be aware of her from her role last year in George Clooney's "Good Night and Good  Luck". She was a recording artist in the film who we saw four or five times recording songs which were integral to the story, making her essentially fill the role of a Greek chorus.

She was very amusing talking about the experience saying she sang whatever George wanted, how he wanted and as often as he wanted. She added "some people look good on the big screen, but he looks good right here" and held her hand in front of her face. Very funny. She then proceeded to sing "One For The Road" from the movie.

She also told a funny story about recently running into a beautiful guy who she had a crush on in high school. He was with his partner Bill. Her very amusing telling of the story segued into "Just My Imagination".

You never know what you'll hear at a Dianne Reeves show. She does jazz and pop standards, original material and even contemporary covers like Peter Gabriel or Cat Stevens. This show included "The Best Times", a song inspired by her grandmother, and a McCoy Tyner cover. Whatever her song selection, every time I've seen her has been an amazing experience.

If you're going to be the opening act for one of the pre-eminent jazz vocalist in the world, you've either got to be damn good or have brass cojones. Fortunately, Italian jazz singer, songwriter and pianist Chiara Civello falls into the first category. I can't confirm or deny the second. I haven't been this impressed with an opening act in recent memory.

She performed a set of original material which I would describe as jazzy pop tunes, some of which had Brazilian roots. After opening with a swinging jazzy tune sung in Italian, she went into two slow moody ballads "Last Quarter Moon" and the melancholy "The Wrong Goodbye" both sung in English, both on her debut CD, also called Last Quarter Moon, and both captivating.

Later she picked up a nylon string guitar and performed a Brazilian sounding song, which she sang in Portuguese, and also spent some time on piano with her pianist sliding over to accordion. The band also included upright bass, drums and electric guitar. She and the band completely won over the audience and that's no easy task considering this was a Dianne Reeves audience.

I found on her web site that she's written a song with Burt Bacharach and recorded an as yet unreleased song with Tony Bennett, which should say something about the caliber of this new artist. 

 

Si*Se: July 20th at Pier 54 (w/Radio Mundial opening)

This was another of those NYC summer days where the options were almost limitless. From among the numerous free shows, I decided to see Josh Rouse at Castle Clinton in Battery Park (more on that later), and then scoot up to pier 54 at 13th street to see this show. I almost squeezed in blues singer Shemekia Copeland between these two but I hate to feel rushed and I've seen her before.

Si*Se is fronted by singer Carol C, a New Yorker of Dominican descent who has a smooth easy singing style vaguely similar to Sade. The band takes slow danceable electronica beats and using drums, percussion. guitar, bass, violin and keyboard, creates an infectious groove which would be popular in a dance club. Most of the music was decidedly not Latin, and although I enjoyed the entire set, my favorites were the couple of Latin sounding tunes which tended to have more energy. This is a band I'd see again.

Opening the show was Radio Mundial (World Radio), another New York based Latin band who've been compared to the slightly better known Los Amigos Invisibles and Yerba Buena. Their music was most definitely Latin, combining various rhythms from Mexico, Peru, Colombia and the Caribbean with funk and rock sensibilities. You could maybe call their music Afro-Latin funk.

Founded by Peruvian/Puerto Rican brothers Jean and Richard Shepard, the band used drums, assorted percussion, guitars, bass, a Puerto Rican stringed instrument called a cuatro and 4 part harmonies to get the crowd all worked up. This was a high energy performance. I also had fun watching some twenty-somethings dancing with hula hoops. Some were sexy and some were goofy.

I enjoyed both bands but my feeling was that a good portion of the crowd liked this one better. Either way, I think we'll be hearing more about both.

Josh Rouse : July 20th at Castle Clinton

I've heard Nebraska born singer/songwriter Josh Rouse on 90.7 WFUV a number of times. I think he's a favorite of morning host Claudia Marshall. This free show seemed a perfect chance to check out his live show, especially since I was headed into the city anyway. I liked what I heard on the radio but this show was more fun than I anticipated. His laid back sound is easily compared to surfer dude Jack Johnson. It's not that he sounds like Johnson it's just the same relaxed vibe. The songs are basically catchy and danceable rock/pop tunes. I only stayed for an hour because I wanted to get to the other show (see review above) but I was impressed enough that I've put hearing his CD on my list of things to do.

Ranger Jim, who's becoming a cult figure among New York music lovers, begins each show with a little history of Castle Clinton. It was built for the war of 1812 but never used in the war. Afterwards it became the immigration center, with 8 million immigrants passing thru before Ellis Island took over. It was also an opera house where world famous Jenny Lind once performed. Just a little New York flavor added to enhance the evening.

 

Ledisi : July 19th at Madison Square Park

Ledisi is a funky soul singer who also dabbles in jazz. In the last six or seven years she's released a couple of CD's as an independent artist, but has just signed with Verve Records and hopes to have her major label debut available early next year.

I wasn't very familiar with her music except for seeing her name in print every once in a while, but when I saw she had been booked to play The Blue Note, I thought why not check her out at this free show. A friend had told me she was sort of a mellow R&B singer, and there were some soulful ballads, but this set was mostly up tempo and funky.

Backed by bass, drums, guitar, keyboard and two backup singers, she performed songs from her two CD's, "Soulsinger" and "Feeling Orange But Sometimes Blue" plus "My Sensitivity" a song she originally recorded for a Verve tribute to Luther Vandross.

She had us sing along on a number of tunes and then made fun of us for singing "Get Outta My Kitchen" a little too prissy. She said when you're telling someone to "get outta my kitchen" (translation "mind your own business"), you have to say it nasty. She also sang a nice soulful ballad called  "You" which she said she had written for Anita Baker and then proceeded to sing it as Anita Baker would which had the crowd hysterical.

She's got a powerful voice and a good sense of humor, and her band (I think they're called Anibade), moved effortlessly between jazz and funk. Her shows at The Blue Note are sold out but I suspect that those with tickets are in for a treat.  

 

Amadou and Mariam: July 16th at Central Park Summerstage (w/Daby Toure opening)

A lot of my favorite music lately is coming out of Africa. There seems to be a trend of Africa musicians taking western music, most of which has its roots in Africa, and recycling it through Africa again. The result is music that has bluesy, jazzy, Latin, rocking and other western sounds but with instruments, vocal styles, rhythms and languages that make it distinctly African.

Amadou and Mariam, a blind couple from Mali, are a perfect example of this phenomenon. He plays his Fender guitar like a rockin' blues man from Cuba who lived in Paris before moving to Mali. Backed by keyboard, bass, drums and percussion, their beautiful harmonies and melodies with the infectious rhythms had most of the crowd up and dancing despite the very African 95 degree temperatures. Their CD from last year "Dimanche A Bamako" is on my list of favorites. It's worth a listen.

  Daby Toure from Mauritania is another African artist taking his lead from western pop music. His CD "Diam" is also on my list of favorites from last year, so now you know why I wasn't about to miss this double bill just because you could cook eggs on the hood of your car. I saw him twice last year and was very impressed with his multi-octave voice, beautiful guitar work and catchy songs.

A number of his songs began with him strumming a toe tapping rhythm and singing a beautiful melody before the bass and drums burst in causing the crowd to erupt into spontaneous dancing. He speaks English fairly well and interacted with the audience often, especially when they weren't singing along loud enough.

This was a free show, but many who arrived late had to listen from outside because they couldn't squeeze another body inside. If that makes you feel "out of the loop", you can begin working you way back in by checking out the above mentioned CD's (and coming back here often).  :-)

 

Angelique Kidjo: July 1st at Prospect Park Brooklyn (w/Vusi Mahlasela opening)

A few months ago I saw this concert listing and marked it on my calendar in indelible ink. Her voice, her band, her music and her "force of nature" positive attitude are an inspiration for me. For shows like this I've been known to say "If I'm not there, check the hospitals".  

The week of the show we got a call from our friend Robin informing us she was having a birthday soiree this same evening. I say soiree because with her gourmet food, elegant home and eclectic guest list, the word "party", which could be interpreted as a keg at a frat house, is simply insufficient. If there's anything I enjoy as much as a great concert, it's one of Robin's gatherings.

In the end, since I could only see Angelique on this day, and can see Robin as often as I like, and had told numerous other friends that I would absolutely be at the concert, the concert is where I went. Judy opted for the soiree which, besides all the above listed amenities, also included an air conditioned kitchen. During the course of the evening, the partygoers and I exchanged cell phone photos of both events creating a strong sense of at least being together in spirit.

I've talked before about Angelique's trilogy of CD's which connect the music of Africa with the music of America, Brazil and the Caribbean. She performed songs from all three including "Bala Bala", "Ominira", "Afirika" and Jimi Hendrix' "Voodoo Child" among others. For the Hendrix song she invited South African hip-hop artist Zola, who had done an opening set, to join her.

She also performed a bluesy Sade song called "Pearls". I also heard her perform it last year at Lincoln Center and both times it was a truly powerful and moving experience. I look forward to the day when an Angelique version becomes available on a recording.

This show was dedicated to South African singing legends Brenda Fasi and Miriam Makeba, so a portion of the show was set aside for some of their songs. Vusi Mahlasela and four backup singers joined Angelique for some of that segment. Angelique explained that until hearing Miriam Makeba, she hadn't realized that singing was respectable career choice for an African woman. Talk about inspirational!

Vusi Mahlasela is known in South Africa as "The Voice". I'm sure it has a double meaning as he has a beautiful and powerful voice but also because he was arrested often and spent much time in jail for being the voice of reason and speaking out against apartheid.

He captivated the audience with his rich sounding acoustic guitar which he played beautifully, his original songs, sung with his impressive voice in both English and Zulu, and his charming stories. One story was about how his grandmother stood in the doorway and told the police,  who were rounding up all the dissidents, that "Vusi is here but you can't have him". She added "I have a pot of boiling water for the first one who comes thru the door". So they left!

He also did a short song written by one of his cellmates. It consisted of him scratching a guitar string with his fingernail making a sound exactly like a hacksaw cutting a metal bar. Very funny!

Between songs and anecdotes both of these artists manage to spread the word of peace tolerance and co-existence without being preachy. For me, this gives them a greater stature  than can be achieved just by being great singers. But if you go to one of their shows and you don't care about the message, then all you get is great music. Still not a bad deal!

I actually left the show a little before it ended to see if maybe I could get to Robin's for the closing moments of the evening, but it was too far and I was too late. I think next year, in order to avoid this "two places at one time" dilemma, I might need to find a way to invite Angelique to Robin's soiree. Now that would be a party!