Fleurine and Brad Mehldau have recorded an intimate album entitled "Close Enough For Love" and why not? They certainly were close enough when the roller-skating Fleurine fell down the stairs at the Village Vanguard and crashed right on top of Mehldau. That was their first meeting.
Performing at North Sea, Mehldau took his usual Bill Evans' hover over the piano and the lovely and beautiful Fleurine, dressed in a stunning black velvet and gold cocktail dress, stood beside him. It was reminiscent of the scene from the Fabulous Baker Boys, when Jeff Bridges and Michele Pfeiffer finally get to perform alone without Jeff's dorky brother. Unfortunately, I enjoyed Michele's singing more than Fluorine's. At least Michele stuck to uncomplicated standards like "Makin' Whoopee," which her voice could handle. Some of Brad and Fleurine's selections were creatively avant-garde, however Fleurine's small voice was not powerful enough to carry off the erratic vocal phrasing needed. In fact, at times she was noticeably off-key. Her best vocalization, sung in French, was Chanson de Delphine. Brad on the other hand was creatively superb as usual, but his talent much out-weighed Fleurine. For me, their blending somehow didn't quite fit.
STANLEY TURRENTINE QUARTET WITH MULGREW MILLER
When Stanley Turrentine-tenor sax and Mulgrew Miller-piano joined together onstage with Ray Drummond-bass and Alvin Queen-drums, the results were, without a doubt, one of the great performances of the weekend. The quartet opened their concert with a scorching arrangement (yes it is possible thanks to Stanley) of "Just the Way You Look Tonight," after which, the audience went berserk with applause and cheers. Sliding into a slow swinging arrangement of Billy Taylor's "Easy Walker," spectators on either side of me were making comments like, "wow!" and "unbelievable!"
Mulgrew Miller is a dazzling pianist and a key figure in consolidating the piano jazz tradition, having toured with the Mercer/Ellington band in the late 1970's, a member of the Woody Shaw quintet and Blakey's Jazz Messenger's in the '80's. He fused his solid background into a brilliant technique and has been sought after by many recording artists. His keyboarding can be romantic, swinging, bold or gentle. Whatever is called for, Miller is there and I want to be there to hear it.
Stanley Turrentine's years of chart success in some the pop and soul style recordings he has done should not fool you into believing that Stanley can't blow jazz. In fact, Stanley's musical ability on tenor sax is extraordinary. His gigantic tone and feel for the real heart of jazz is something not to be missed. His interpretation of "Just the Way You Look Tonight" was a typical example of what Stanley can do with any jazz standard. Everything is new again and this improvisation was absolutely scorching and quite surprising. I'd never heard anything quite like it!
Ellington sure must have been smiling down as the quartet did a gorgeous rendition of "In a Sentimental Mood." This was one of the most beautiful songs played during the 3-day festival and a favorite selection of many musicians. Stanley and Mulgrew handled it with such tenderness a hush fell over the room. Then without blinking, Stanley slid so easily into "Without a Song," intertwining and weaving so perfectly. He dabbed his brush into the water and dotted all the colors. The sound spread and blended and worked its magic until it almost took my breath away. It was stunning, unique, and utterly sublime!
Like everyone else who happened to catch this fabulous concert, I wanted to hear much, much more, but, alas, all good things must come to an end. Every selection was ecstasy. They wrapped it up with a bright swinging "Sugar" from the CTI Label and a heartfelt standing ovation from the crowd.
HENDRICKS & ROSS
Jon Hendricks, Dave Lambert and Annie Ross created a highly successful popularity during the late 1950's and ´60's with their sparkling jazz vocalese (the art of adding words to existing jazz solos).
The trio came about after songwriter, Hendricks decided to assemble a group of singers together to rehearse arrangements of vocalese to Count Basie standards. Dave Lambert was one of those singers, but rehearsals weren't going too well. They decided to call in a vocal coach for assistance. Annie Ross was already an established singer, having started her singing career by performing with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra at the age of 10. Ultimately, "Sing a Song of Basie" took 4 months to record, but very quickly became a smash success. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross skyrocketed to fame, breaking audience records in clubs in New York, Chicago and the West Coast. They sang with Louis Armstrong, Zoot Sims and Dave Brubeck and produced a string of successful albums until 1962, when Annie Ross left the trio due to illness. She was replaced by Yolande Bavan. Shortly thereafter, the group broke up. Luckily, Hendricks and Ross decided to join their voices once more (Dave Lambert died in 1966) at the North Sea's 25th anniversary, giving a brilliant performance.
Leonard Feather, the Godfather of serious jazz journalism, heralded Hendricks as "the poet laureate of jazz," and Time Magazine called him "the James Joyce of Jive." He briefly teamed up with Georgie Fame in 1968 while living in Europe and was involved with new singing groups and has been a guest and written for the Manhattan Transfer. His hundreds of lyrics added to jazz solos are a living legacy in vocalese jazz history.
Leonard Feather also wrote of Annie: "Technically, she is the most remarkable female vocalist since Ella Fitzgerald." Annie went on to perform in the UK and ran her own club, Annie's Room, for a time. She did some serious acting roles on stage, screen and television through the 1990´s. She was quoted in the NSJF program guide as saying about their return performance: "It swings, we have fun, its magic!"
JEANNE LEE AND MAL WALDRON NEW YORK TRIO
In the United States, Mal Waldron is better known for his work with Billie Holiday and for his standard, "Soul Eyes," with Abbey Lincoln, but in Europe, he has long been a major force in the prolific world of free jazz, often working successfully with the likes of Steve Lacy and Archie Shepp. On his 75th Birthday Celebration Tour, Mal and his New York Trio performed three concerts during the festival weekend. I only wish I had attended one of Mal's concerts without Jeanne Lee's vocal repartee.
Although Jeanne Lee has been hailed as a vocal poetess of the avant-garde throughout Europe and Japan, I could hardly sit through her opening number of "When Lights Are Low," which I might add was 90% wordless throat and guttural sounds slightly related to scatting. Everything seemed off. Mal played like it was just a rehearsal, sounding single chords now and again and when it came time for Reggie Workman-bass and Andrew Cyrille-drums to do their solos, it was almost unbelievable. Their timing was somewhere in the twilight zone and Andrew sounded like it was the first time he ever play drums. Faint applause!
I can't even recall the second selection. I was just waiting for them to get their groove going, but at 11:30 p.m., the last night of the 3-day concert, I guess it was too much to ask for. At the end of the almost agonizing second ditty by Ms. Lee, all but a handful of the audience impatiently made a dive for the exit doors. I was embarrassed for them.