rene marie. photo by john abbott.
After an extended suite-like composition called “Lost” took her from bossa-driven bass to subtle swing to multiple codas of the blues, jazz songstress Rene Marie took a moment at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville last night to collect her thoughts and catch her breath. While regrouping, she encouraged patrons to ask questions of her band.
“Where did you all meet?” was one query.
Marie answered in a deadpan whisper, a marked contrast to the steady exuberance she displayed during the one hour, 45 minute performance. “In a bar.”
The audience, almost expectedly, laughed at the matter of fact reply. Though it turned out to be the truth, the fact such an alliance was struck up so casually seemed to fly in the face of the music that wound up on display. Indeed, among the many extraordinary aspects of the concert was the musical symmetry Marie shared with pianist John Chin, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Quentin E. Baxter, collectively known as Experiment in Truth. All were accomplished instrumentalists who drove the music’s giddiest extremes, the most buoyant of swing passages and the most intimate levels of phrasing. But it was how all four players clicked together that triggered the biggest and most natural fireworks.
You heard it in the way Chen’s bright, artful solo complimented Marie during “If You Were Mine.” It surfaced regularly in the fat, rubbery bass sound Bailey conjured at the onset of “Stronger Than You Think.” Similarly, such simpatico was apparent in the summery, percussive support Baxter designed for the Italian homage “Certaldo.”
Marie, of course, was always the ringleader. A singer of considerable range, she was not a belter, choosing instead to cater her crisp vocals to the songs’ specific emotive casts. The combustible confessions at the heart of “Go Home,” for instance, took passages of hushed vocal grace to bursts of high register desperation. But for the finale of “Joy of Jazz,” her bright and beautifully clear tone matched the trio’s South African inspired groove.
It should be noted that with the exception of a gorgeous take on Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” which was included as a eulogy for her mother-in-law who died earlier yesterday, the concert was devoted exclusively to original material from Marie’s 2016 album, “Sound of Red,” which is up for a Grammy Award next month.
To offer a repertoire of largely unfamiliar compositions was an atypically bold move for a singer devoted to straight up jazz. But the resulting performance was so technically and emotively engrossing that Marie’s songs quickly became as accessible as the obvious simpatico the singer shared with her remarkable band.
Not bad for a bunch of artists who met in a bar.