Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jazz concert review: "Blue" makes Capri crowds happy

When: Saturday, Oct. 9, and Sunday, Oct. 10 • Where: Capri TheaterWho: Katie Gearty, Nancy Harms, and Rachel Holder, vocals; Phil Aaron (piano),  Graydon Peterson (bass), Jay Epstein (drums); directed by Arne Fogel

Build a jazz concert on the topic of blue—color, mood, feeling—and audiences will come. Reprising a program originally conceived for the Twin Cities Jazz Society and performed in April of this year, Blue: Songs on the Indigo Side so impressed Capri Theater director Karl Reichert that he brought it back to launch the theater's annual Legends series. Both the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon shows drew large and enthusiastic crowds. HH and I were there on Sunday.

After a relaxed and swinging opener by the trio (Miles Davis's "Nardis," renamed "Blue Nardis" for the show), the three featured vocalists—Katie Gearty, Nancy Harms, and Rachel Holder—joined in singing Miles Davis's "All Blues," with lyrics by Oscar Brown Junior. The three different voices blended beautifully in a song that also ended the program, a pair of blue bookends.

In between, with the exception of "Blue Moon" and a medley, all of the songs were solo performances. Highlights:

• Nancy's "Mood Indigo," arranged by pianist Bryan Nichols in 11/4 (if I remember correctly), a slyer, sexier version of Ellington's original 4/4 rhythm and one that leaves me a bit breathless. She performed an earlier version, even more mathy, at an Artists' Quarter show in August. Hearing Nancy sing almost any song makes you want to listen very closely, as if it's brand-new. Her sense of timing is such that each beat seems like a limitless expanse. Sometimes she sings the actual notes of a melody, sometimes she sings her own notes, but the melody is still present. Yet her singing never seems showy, artificial, or forced. You hear her and think, "Of course—that's how a particular song should have been sung all along." Except nobody else could sing it that way.  Visit her website and check out "Blackbird."

• Rachel's take on Toots Thieleman's lilting "Bluesette," with updated "girl power" lyrics by Rhiannon.

• Nancy's "Blue Monk," for which she sang her own newly-written lyrics ("Spinning around/Dreaming in blue/All the stars are dancing two by two... Thelonious Sphere/Floating in a world of blue/Lovely shades and hues of blue").

• Katie's "Blues on a Holiday," with lyrics by Susan Tedeschi. I've heard Katie sing before, but in small bits--a song here and there, or as one of Bruce Henry's group of singers. I like her bluesy attitude, the way she forms words and sings them with conviction, and the rich, resonant quality of her voice. I'll have to watch for her and catch her again soon, perhaps with Vital Organ.

• "Blue Moon," sung by all three with "mystery voice" Arne Fogel in the background. After a straight-ahead start, they swung into the Marcels' doo-wop version (bomp-bomp-ba-domp-a-dang-a-dang-dang). A fun, lighthearted moment in the program.

The last part was a medley and I'm not a fan of medleys. Actually, I resent them. You're just getting into a song (in this case, "Blue Bayou" or "Blueberry Hill") when it's yanked away, replaced by another, and the transition is rarely very interesting.

Throughout the show, I thought there was a bit too much talking. I appreciate it when vocalists (and instrumentalists) tell us what they're about to perform, and maybe something about a particular tune--the composer, the context, the significance. Fogel is a music historian and he's known for doing that in his live performances and on his radio shows. (You can hear his current program "The Bing Shift" every Saturday from 7–8pm on KBEM.) I don't want to discourage anyone from providing some background, but sometimes less is more and not everything needs an introduction.

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