Monday, February 6, 2006

Christine Rosholt at Rossi's: CD release concert review

Until recently, fans of Twin Cities singer Christine Rosholt who needed a fix between live shows had to content themselves with a four-song demo CD. Recorded in 2003, featuring Jay Epstein on drums, Michael Gold on base, and David Roos on guitar, it’s delightful but leaves one wanting more. With the release of Detour Ahead, her first full-length CD, we can settle in for 13 classic tracks—some instantly familiar, some less so, each delivered with a dusting of sugar.

Drummer Jay Epstein returns, but the rest of the band is new: Michael O’Brien on bass, Tanner Taylor on piano, Robert Everest on guitars and voice, Steve Roehm on vibes. All five are on hand (O’Brien having flown in from his new home in New York) for the official Detour Ahead CD release on Friday, February 3, at Rossi’s Blue Star Jazzroom, arguably the area’s noisiest jazz club.

Christine looks adorable in the fur-trimmed black dress and black hat she wore for the Detour Ahead cover shoot. Before the show begins, she walks the room, greeting family and friends. Her husband, Brooks Peterson, beams from beneath his signature pork-pie hat. Three “CD girls”—friends of Christine’s wearing pink and magenta wigs and little black dresses—go from table to table selling copies of the new CD. (It turns out they sell a lot.) Following a hasty introduction by someone who can’t pronounce the headliner’s name (it’s “ross-holt,” not “rosh-holt”), Christine joins her band onstage.

In a concert preview published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Tom Surowicz called Christine “the hardest-working, most bubbly new jazz singer in town.” She’s approachable, she’s warm, and she has no diva airs. When she meets you, she remembers your name. If you show up to see her perform, she’s thrilled. She’ll put you on her email list, if you want, and keep you informed of her upcoming gigs, of which there are usually several—at places like Nochee and the French Press, the Wabasha Caves (with Beasley’s Big Band), the Times, the Dakota, Bar Lurcat, Norton’s Restaurant in Bay City, and the Twisted Grill in Hudson. Like many jazz artists, she does benefits, bookstore openings, happy hours, and private parties. Some of the Twin Cities’ most popular and respected musicians play in her bands: Dave Karr, Chris Lomheim, Clay Moore, Reuben Ristrom, Gary Raynor, Pooch Heine. Even other singers say nice things about her. This is Minnesota, where high-road behavior is the norm, but still, singers who have been around a lot longer than Christine admire her drive, energy, and talent.

The show opens with a trio (Epstein, O’Brien, Taylor) and the first cut from the new CD, “East of the Sun (And West of the Moon”). It’s lilting, lovely, and in other clubs the crowd would have shut the heck up to listen. The second song, Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me,” is not on the CD, hinting that tonight is also about repertoire. From there, Christine leads her band through a speedy “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” from Oklahoma, revealing another of her strengths: crisp, clean articulation. Those of us who saw her in “Take All My Loves: Christine Rosholt Presents an Evening of Shakespeare” at Macalester’s Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center a year ago already know that about her. Singing jazz arrangements of Shakespeare songs was a tongue-twisting, brain-bending challenge, and she pulled it off—wearing a ruff.

The fourth song revisits the CD: Harold Arlen’s “Out of This World.” Christine is singing music she loves, and it shows. She’s relaxed and chatty. Steve Roehm comes onstage, Christine exits for a short break, and the quartet plays Chick Corea’s “Sea Journey.” When she returns, it’s for Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek,” and we’re in heaven. The pensive Ellington-Strayhorn “Daydream” follows. The live performance features Roehm, as does the recorded version; both times, voice and vibes blend beautifully. Christine reminds us that everyone heard on the CD is appearing with her tonight. A live show is always different from a recording, but it’s nice to know we can bring home the same people and essentially the same sound we’re hearing now.

Off goes Roehm and on comes Robert Everest, making his first appearance of the evening. It’s also his first live-in-front-of-a-crowd performance with Christine. Matthew Zimmerman of Wild Sound Studio, where Detour Ahead was recorded, suggested Everest to Christine, and it’s a perfect pairing. Singer, songwriter, guitar player, and world traveler, he joins Christine for Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade (No More Blues).” Her voice grows silkier to match his—the soft, convincing caress of the Brazilian style—and the elegant sound of his guitar, which somehow manages to penetrate the Rossi’s din. She sings in English, he in Portuguese. We make a note to hear more of Everest in the future: at Maria’s Café on east Franklin, where he regularly performs for Sunday brunch, or perhaps at Barbette or Lurcat

O’Brien opens “Besame Mucho” with a bowed bass solo, and couples rise from their tables and move to the small dance floor while Christine sings. Afterward, she leaves the stage to Everest, who leads O’Brien and Epstein on another Brazilian journey. Christine and Roehm return for Jobim’s “Wave,” and the blend of vibes, nylon strings, bass, and drums is delicious. Following another instrumental, this one without Everest, Christine regroups with the original trio of Epstein, O’Brien, and Tanner for “I Cover the Waterfront” by John Green and Edward Heyman, which is heard on the new CD, and “Comes Love” by Lew Brown and Sammy Stept, which is not. They conclude the set with an ebullient “Tea for Two” in cha-cha style.

Our stay at Rossi’s is over. Christine and her band are halfway through theirs; they’re scheduled to perform another two hours (until 1 a.m.), during which (we can only suppose) they’ll treat the crowd to the other half of Detour Ahead—songs including “From This Moment On,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.” This has been an evening of high points and surprises: Everest’s sensuous guitar, O’Brien’s brilliant bass, the freshness of a top-notch band shifting from trio to quartet and back again, a fine selection of songs, and holding it all together, the sweet-voiced, effervescent Christine. It’s a detour we’d gladly take again.

P.S. The only drawback to an otherwise excellent evening was the venue. At Rossi’s Blue Star Jazzroom, live music is an excuse for the crowd to talk even louder. Please, people, can we refrain from shouting “Hey, Pauly, baby!” to a friend across the room when a singer is singing? Can we turn off the televisions at the bar during a show?

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