Monday, June 13, 2011
Review: Deborah Brown at the Gem Theater
Ida McBeth sang the national anthem at the inaugural event of Livestrong Sporting Park last week. Kelley Hunt served as the headliner at the Gladstone BluesFest on Saturday. That's as it should be. Both women have paid decades of dues on the regional jazz and blues scenes.
Meanwhile Deborah Brown, considered by many to be one of the world's greatest jazz vocalists, is a virtual unknown in her hometown of Kansas City. Perhaps the events of last weekend will help raise her profile. After playing Friday and Saturday at the Blue Room, Brown and a Dutch band led by drummer Eric Ineke relocated to the Gem Theater on Sunday. According to Joe Klopus' preview of the concert, a new recording is in the works.
I arrived at the Gem in time to hear the final thirty minutes of a performance by a band fronted by Kevin Johnson. The vocalist fancies himself a ladykiller in the vein of Luther Vandross. He's not. His cloying versions of songs by James Ingram, Marvin Gaye and Kenny Latimore was made bearable by a solid four-piece band that included pianist Phillip Brown.
After Johnson's set concluded, Deborah Brown lauded her brother Phillip's accomplishments. They performed a charming version of "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You" together. The duet allowed Phillip to show off his intriguing approach to piano. A forty-minute break ensued, allowing the approximately 200 people in attendance- most of whom seemed to know one another- to trade compliments about their handsome Sunday wardrobe selections.
"This is one of the best bands in Europe," emcee David Basse professed as he introduced Ineke's ensemble. "They've come to Kansas City to see what we do here."
Led by Ineke, Sjoerd Djikhuizen, tenor saxophone, Fereira Neves, trumpet, Rob van Bavel, piano, and Marius Beets, bass, expertly played straight ahead swing. That suits Brown's sensibilities. She's in thrall of Ella, Sarah and Nancy. Her voice- dare I say it?- is their equal.
"We're doing the music of Duke Ellington," Brown explained. "We had to tweak it to make it sound like the music of today."
If, by "the music of today," Brown meant 1965, her statement was accurate. I'm not complaining. Almost everything they played was exceptional. More importantly, they allowed Brown to showcase her stunning voice. She's one of the very few scat-oriented vocalists that doesn't make me cringe.
An unconventional arrangement of "Mood Indigo" was refreshing. A take on "In My Solitude" was gorgeous. A rendition of "My Old Flame" was sultry. The less familiar "I'm Checkin' Out, Goombye" provided lighthearted counterpoint. The immaculate interplay of Djikhuizen and Neves on the latter selection was remarkable. A man identified as Mayor Sly James joined Brown and the band on stage for a call-and-response version of "Kansas City." I'm not sure it was actually him, however, as he sounded far too good for a politician.
At just over an hour, Brown's performance might seem as if it didn't justify its $25 price tag. Those who were there, however, know that the quality of Brown's effort compensated for its lack of quantity.
(Original blurry image by Plastic Sax.)