Sunday, July 12, 2015

Live Music: at Jazz in the Gardens, Voices carried

Though Jamaican audiences are far more primed for vocal than instrumental live acts (which makes this writer somewhat of a contrarian), a well executed vocal cabaret can be a genuinely extraordinary thrill.

The most recent edition of Jazz in the Gardens at the Pegasus was just that, with every act on the roster delivering a sterling set (despite two artiste's protests of a failing voice) of well-chosen numbers that offered variety and  virtuosity in almost equal measure.

First up though, the band. Drummer Desi Jones led an amalgamation of EMC (Edna Manley College) alumni through an invigorating curtain-raiser of standards before the first vocal act took the stage.

Nina Karle Levy (below) took advantage of her famous name to reel off a fine trio of songs by her storied namesake, Nina Simone: a sultry yet cheerful  "Feelin Good" the crowd-pleaser "My baby Just Cares For Me" and this writer's favourite,"I Put A Spell On You"

She was followed by Montana, who busying himself on the hotel circuit, arrived in less-than-perfect vocal nick. Still, he managed to belt out more than creditable renditions of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" and a Spinners medley  ("Could It Be I'm Falling In Love/ I'll Be Around") before backing off the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic 'A House is Not A Home".

There was no backing off for erstwhile sportscaster Ian Andrews(right), who came in between two women vocalists I'll get to in a little while. Dapper in grey, he dove straight into "My One and Only Love" before teasing with Doris Day's "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" and giving the required full emotional treatment (even dropping to one knee) to the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody".

Alisa and Christine are the aforementioned ladies and whilst their repertoires differed considerably, the quality, professionalism and flat-out commitment to their respective crafts was equally unquestionable.

Clad in a fetching black pantsuit, Alisa ran through (OK, she didn't "run") a number of her favourites and was not merely pitch perfect musically, but in terms of the emotions conveyed. The inclusion of the long-missed "Old Friend" by Phyllis Hyman (who took her own life by drug overdose) and the much misconstrued "Hallelujah" (written and recorded by Leonard Cohen, but more famously covered by Jeff Buckley, who drowned) meant that two of her selections had tragedy attached to them, but there was everything joyful in hearing the delivery, as there was in her rousing rendition of Emeli Sande's 'Next To Me".

Sartorially the antithesis of Alisa, Christine Fisher took the stage in flowing, glowing white and delved into the blues. Roberta Flack's "Tryin Times" and the classic 8-bar composition "Trouble in Mind" (often recorded but perhaps most famously by Dinah Washington) set a somber mood that undoubtedly resonated with the audience (and with the organizers) and was not completely erased by a joyously funky reading of  the Tracy Chapman smash, "Give Me One Reason"

No to be outdone by the ladies, closing Rojah changed the tempo and the tenor of the evening completely, with a stirring mix of reggae and r n' b gems (including Jimmy Cliff's "Harder They Come" theme and "Trapped") accompanied by near-manic movement and frequent raps with - and throws to - the audience. He showed no signs of having overcome - as he explained - throat surgery just days prior, except for giving the audience a bit too many cues for sing-alongs and fill-ins.

All told, it was a night, worthy of the Jazz in the Gardens brand, precipitating great anticipation for the next instalment, come September 6.

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