Two magnetic vocalists, and their sparkling bands, performed in Boston recently and brought new challenging sounds and vocal styles to their potent storytelling and beauty of song.
In mid-July, Scullers Jazz Club (“Scullers”) in Cambridge, MA. [www.scullersjazz.com] was the epicenter of jazz heat and swing when the vivacious young vocalist, Jazzmeia Horn, (“Jazzmeia”) appeared with her quartet to perform music from her superb 2017 debut recording, A Social Call [Concord Music Group; www.theartistryofjazzhorn.com].
A Social Call is an audiophile gem with an upfront perspective that captures the energy of this dynamic band in full creative flight. The recording is notable for its wonderful dynamic flow and spaciousness; natural image dimensionality and its crisp tactile presence to every lithe vocal reach, piano run and cymbal splash.
At her performance at Scullers, Jazzmeia’s voice was an ever-adventurous vehicle flowing with creative intonations, pitch control and expressive glee. Her kinetic voice alighted on any branch in her vocal range with ease: from a lightning quick high scat to a growling low gospel hold. On Jimmy Rowles and Norma Winstone’s dreamy ballad, “The Peacocks,” (which also appears on Social Call) Jazzmeia’s voice frolicked from a soft scatting whisper to a maelstrom of sounds giddy with experimentation (as she outstretched her hand to play an imaginary saxophone).
Pianist Miki Hayama was also sensational on “The Peacocks” (and throughout the concert), shifting in her creative light piano touches and intensely bluesy phrases to throw shafts of light in and around Jazzmeia’s flowing lines.
The house sound at Scullers, (which tends to the analytical side of things with crisp instrument outlines), served Jazzmeia and Hayama well in their nimble dance from the smokiness of “The Peacocks” to a sassy up-tempo version of Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (with drummer Chris Beck joining the fray with his brushes creating light splashes of cymbal explosions).
Jazzmeia and her band mined pearls from Americana roots music, (from the powerful gospel of “Wade In The Water” to the classic light sway of Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You”), and fashioned each tune uniquely into their own creation. One highlight of this vital journey was their electrifying “Medley” (which also appears on A Social Call) that melds Mongo Santamaria’s classic tune “Afro Blue” (a previous favorite version sung by the dynamic Dee Dee Bridgewater on her marvelous 2007 Red Earth recording [DOB Records]) with Jazzmeia’s original, “Eye See You.”
At the Scullers show, this medley was ignited by Jazzmeia’s voice conjuring up the sounds of the African plains (with a cacophony of sounds that included high resonant squeals, scattered punctured calls and low growls). These vocals led into her chanting a deep Native American chant (accompanied by Beck’s mallets hitting his deepest drums in slow rhythms) and then into the solemn spoken words of her original tune, “Eye See You” which blasts police brutality, racism and conditions of mass incarceration in its vocal wake. With her band careening with furious bass runs and heavy chords (and with Hayama repeated two notes on her piano furiously like two bursting firecrackers), the group marched triumphantly into the traditional gospel of “Wade In The Water” with Jazzmeia’s voice resplendent and powerful, propelled by her band’s “we will not be moved” steady backbeat.
The capacity crowd would not let Jazzmeia and her band off the stage without several encores. The final encore was a wistful improvised song, “Bye, Bye Boston”, in which Jazzmeia’s voice combined light scatting, comedy, bravado and glee in her shining vocal presence.
[Jazzmeia returns to Boston to perform at the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival, held on Saturday, September 30th. See www.berklee.edu/beantownjazz for the full schedule of this wonderful free street music festival].
Across town from Scullers, another thrilling performance took place at the Berklee Performance Center (www.berklee.edu), when World Music/Crash Arts (www.worldmusic.org) presented a concert by The Gloaming [www.thegloaming.net], a group composed of three Irish and two American musicians steeped in the soulful ballads, jigs and reels of Irish roots music. Their self-titled debut album [Brassland Records; www.brassland.org] is a musical and audio marvel.
The recording delivers the Gloaming’s incandescent music with splendor to each tactile detail: Martin Hayes and Caoimhin Raghallaigh’s high fiddle soars; Thomas Bartlett’s gentle piano wisps; Dennis Cahill’s limpid guitar strums and the many silent spacious moments that make up the shifting landscape of sounds and colors in The Gloaming’s soulful music.
The Gloaming’s lead vocalist is Iarla O Lionaird, a man of slender build who possesses an amazingly expressive and lush voice. At The Gloaming’s performance at Berklee, when O Lionaird stepped forward to deliver his vocals, the capacity audience was immediately hushed and completely mesmerized.
His voice contains a deep well of emotion, capable of producing the most fragile quivering high notes or a bracing thunder of baritone majesty. His diction is so clear and his pitch so accurate that he can effortlessly ensnare the expressive core of the songs he cherishes. For instance, in performing the traditional ballad, “The Lark In The Clear Air”, O Lionaird sang with glowing passion, (softly at first, powerful at the end), with a suppleness to each note that was both intimate and majestic. He captured the emotional heft of this glowing ballad perfectly, with Cahill’s guitar and Hayes and Raghallaigh’s fiddles snaking in and out of his thicket of slow brewing and pungent vocals.
The Gloaming could also rattle the walls with their resolute jigs, soaring reels and toe-tapping instrumentals – greased with the lightning of O Lionaird’s rising vocals and the swirl of fiddles on fire. From the rollick of “The Rolling Waves” to the stippled stutter-step of “Hunting The Squirrel,” the band erupted in glorious, sunny sound. Ripping through fiddle leaps and plunges, chasing piano runs and curling slides, the band delivered frolic and joy that ignited the audience to dance in the aisles. The final jig was propelled again by the elemental force and beauty of O Lionaird’s rising vocals. He punctuated the fleet dance of his partners by holding his daring voice high with great bravado and also tenderness- like the little miracle of a dragonfly alighting on a wind-blown, dancing lily pad in the sunshine.