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Wednesday, December 7, 2005

For this I missed "Charlie Brown Christmas"?

Songstress Madeleine Peyroux (pronounced "Peru") was in town for a show last night. The Mrs. and I went, not knowing in advance hardly anything about her music. What we experienced was more interesting than it was entertaining.

Peyroux's concert revealed her fine voice and great taste in music, but the two were encased in a crust of hipness that was so thick as to be impenetrable. Every number she performed -- from her own brooding compositions, to Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," to jazz standards -- was performed in an extreme Billie Holiday imitation. Every line was delivered off-tempo; every note was tortured, bending and swooping; and nearly every phrase ended with an intentionally discordant shading. After a while, I thought to myself, "You ain't Lady Day, honey. Why not cut the cr*p and just sing the songs?"

Peyroux was accompanied by a jazz quartet that was playing, but not necessarily with her and occasionally not with each other, either. Although we don't get around much any more, I suspect there's better work on display at Jimmy Mak's most nights of the week.

The chanteuse was not without a coterie of adoring fans, however, and her rapport with them is clearly in the manner of the detached, modern diva. Her stage banter was as scattered and ironic as her delivery of a melody. Peyroux marvelled at how many people had turned out for the show, when everyone in the room knew it had been moved from the Schnitzer, without official explanataion but most likely because not enough tickets had been sold. Speaking of which, as expected, there were quite a few unhappy custoners who had indeed gone to the Schnitz in error; by the time they unparked their cars downtown and got to the Aladdin, they had to sit by the men's room door. No mention of any of that from the stage. The obvious program is to accept Peyroux with all her quirks or leave.

Which we did, just as the band finished beating up Frank Loesser and Burton Lane's "I Hear Music." It was 10 after 10 at that point, two hours and 40 minutes after we had arrived at the Aladdin, but only 60 minutes into Peyroux's set. Before the headliner had hit the stage, the crowd got to spend 40 fairly empty minutes with Suzie Soo (my apologies, that's probably not how it's spelled), a solo singer-songwriter out of L.A. Soo is a capable guitarist, but the songs she has written all sound the same, and her better moments are covering Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and Buddy Johnson's "Since I Fell for You." When she speaks, Soo sounds like just a normal, bright young American woman, but her singing voice is a croak that conjures up Toni Childs with a Chinese accent. It was another acquired taste that we haven't acquired.

Do I wish we had our 80 bucks back? I guess not. It was a learning experience. But if I had known this was going to be someone straining half the night to channel Billie Holiday, I might have changed the channel. Peyroux is often said to be a big star in the making. If she somehow falls into the hands of capable, authoritarian handlers who kick her butt and get her to shape up what she's doing into something coherent and accessible, it's possible. But based on last night, I wouldn't bet on it.

Comments (11)

Jack I could not agree more. Madeleine was in rare form last night. She sounded nothing like her recorded music. We stayed until the bitter end, hoping that one song would come together and make the money spent worthwhile. Sadly it never happened.

Perhaps if you'd read that first.

Was it Siouxsie Sioux that opened? That would have been kind of 1987.

I never got into Billie Holliday and I'd wager most 'hipsters' do so because she's basically the only female jazz singer referred to in the media. Ms Holliday's voice is just too high and trilly for me.

IMO, Dinah Washington is the tops; along with Diane Schuur and Nancy Wilson. I like how Dinah speaks through some parts ala Sinatra, then she belts it out just at the right time.

BTW, I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas with my five-year-old last night. I think I liked it better than he.

It was not that Siouxsie Sioux.

TIVO is the answer--I watched the Charlie Brown Christmas this morning while getting ready for work.

I'm with you -- but I still have the Springsteen '75 concert backed up from the other night.

A friend of mine saw Peyroux recently and didn't care for the show, either. I wouldn't have been as struck as you are by the Billie Holiday channeling, as that has appeared to me to be the shtick Peyroux has been doing all along, to the point where I think of her as something of a novelty act. I think she's pleasant enough to listen to in recordings, but I'm not surprised you didn't care for the live version.

Between Peyroux, Badu, and what we sold on a regular basis at my old record store job, you'd like that Lady Day and Nina Simone were the only female jazz singers who managed to record anything before 1998.

It's even worse with the male vocalists; all of the above-the-radar singers today are either Lou Rawls soundalikes or strive to be Bobby Darin striving to be Frank Sinatra. And, as far as catalog artists are concerned, Chet Baker is apparently the only man who mattered in vocal jazz before Harry Connick, Jr.

Between Peyroux, Badu, and what we sold on a regular basis at my old record store job, you'd like that Lady Day and Nina Simone were the only female jazz singers who managed to record anything before 1998.

My first foray into a jazz club, the Half-Note by the entrance to the Holland Tunnel (if I'm remembering right) was with my Spanish teacher, her son, and my date in High School. Anita O'Day...scat singing with the band. Not only did we stay till the end, but we drove her home. She was, at that point, pretty wasted. But what a voice...and what spirit while she was singing.

How DO we get the ones that come after us to recognize and appreciate what's come before?

It is possible to turn anything, anything, into schtick...

My dad played the clarinet in the Air Force band. He raised me on Jazz and my mom raised me on folk. I grew up listening to the best women (and, yeah, the men, too) singers from both --- I can still hear them in my sleep, sometimes.

Nina Simone, Billy Holiday???? Who here can stand up and say they could have made better? Sure, people can turn anything into crap, if you play it over and over and badly enough, again. But I'd NEVER say the original, the best of the original, was not sublime.

Download "Don't wait too long" for 99cents and you have this wonder's one hit! Try LaVerne Butler,or Jane Monheit for some nicely phrased jazzy vocals.


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