René Marie, Pizza Express Jazz Club | reviews, news & interviews
René Marie, Pizza Express Jazz Club
René Marie, Pizza Express Jazz Club
The US vocalist's ability to step inside the song produces one of the gigs of the year
In a fascinating interview with the singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, published in The Los Angeles Times in June 1979 around the release of Mingus, Mitchell signs off with the following aperçu. “You know, pigeonholes all seem funny to me. I feel like one of those lifer-educational types that just keep going for letters after their name. I want the full hyphenate – folk-rock-country-jazz-classic...so finally, when you get all the hyphens in, maybe they'll drop them all and get down to just some American music.”
Playing her very first shows in the UK as part of this year's London Jazz Festival, the singer René Marie is another artist who similarly refuses to be defined by genre. Jazz, soul, folk, gospel and the blues are all referenced in the singer's all-embracing stylistic palette. And the comparisons with Mitchell don't end there. She is also a brilliant songwriter – her 2011 release Black Lace Freudian Slip features all original material – and an actress, appearing Off-Broadway just last month in a touring one-woman play that she wrote, directed and stars in.
It's her ability to step inside the song and make the lyrics come alive that really sets her apart
Seeing her in concert last night it became clear that, as well as possessing a voice that's capable of extraordinary light and shade, it's her ability to step inside the song and make the lyrics come alive that really sets her apart.
Performing material from her latest release, I Wanna Be Evil (With Love To Eartha Kitt), the singer's risk-taking propensities were in evidence from the get-go, with an unaccompanied musical triptych that miraculously segued from “When You're Smiling” to “Smile” to “Make Someone Happy”.
When pianist Albert Sanz, bassist Alex Davis, and drummer Stephen Keogh joined her on “Peel Me A Grape” – which featured on her 1998 recording debut Renaissance – the band's dynamic restraint while setting up a propulsive 6/4 groove was a wonder to behold. Featuring beautifully subtle phrasing across the bar line and impeccable comic timing, the singer's reimagining of Cole Porter's “Let's Do It” would probably be banned for lasciviousness in some countries. Here, and elsewhere, it was like you were hearing the lyrics for the first time.
I was concerned that one or two of the older male audience members were heading for a coronary
The massively swinging title track, the stripped back drums and voice of “Come on-a My House” and the liquid phrasing of “C’est Si Bon” all showcased different aspects of the singer's powerful storytelling gifts. Mining untold depths of eroticism in a song made famous by Kitt, “Santa Baby”, I was concerned that one or two of the older male audience members were heading for a coronary.
Opening with a huge, mischievous cackle, a barnstorming “I'd Rather Be Burned As A Witch” brought one of the gigs of the year to a dramatic close, while the self-penned (yet suitably Kittish) “Weekend” served as the captivating encore. The long, winding queue of people waiting to have their CDs signed after the show told its own story.
Overleaf: watch a clip of René Marie singing 'I'd Rather Be Burned As A Witch'
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