March 1, 2019
I didn’t set out to focus on vocalists and poetry-related events this month, but by the end of the always-painful winnowing process, every pick involved musicians working with lyrics or verse. Let’s all approach spring with a song in our hearts.
Toronto-reared, Brooklyn-based vocalist, composer, poet, and educator Lara Solnicki makes her Bay Area debut at the Red Poppy Art House performing duo with the brilliant Los Angeles pianist/composer Jeremy Siskind. She’s premiering material from her upcoming third album The One and the Other, which she describes as “a cinematic art song project, fusing elements of modern jazz, free improv, Debussy, and post punk, with recited and sung poetry influenced by Baudelaire, Rene Char, and Sylvia Plath.” She clearly lacks ambition. On March 9, Solnicki teaches a master class at the California Jazz Conservatory “Making the Leap From Classical to Jazz Singing.”
You never know who you’re going to meet at a White House state dinner. For New York jazz pianist Helen Sung, a chance seating assignment at a 2007 event where she was performing landed her next to poet Dana Gioia, who was in the middle of his six-year stint as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. They struck up a friendship that evolved into a creatively charged collaboration documented on the 2018 album Sung With Words (Stricker Street Records). An often-dazzling improviser, Sung made a powerful impression at SFJAZZ’s Thelonious Monk birthday celebration in October. She and Gioia, a Sonoma resident, perform duo March 9 at Oakland’s Piedmont Piano and March 10 at a fundraiser for Healdsburg Jazz.
The innovative arts organization Giant Steps presents Music Action Women, a new project that brings together an international cast of female musicians for a two-week residency in partnership with University of San Francisco’s Global Women’s Rights Forum and Performing Arts & Social Justice program. The group, which debuts with two shows at the Red Poppy Art House, features Venezuelan bandola virtuoso Mafer Bandola — a member of the all-female ensemble Ladama — internationally touring Serbian saxophonist Jasna Jovicevic, Armenian keyboardist, accordionist and vocalist Sevana Tchakerian, Singaporean electronic soundscape master Claire Marie Lim, and the American rhythm section tandem of Twin Cities bassist Liz Draper and Philly drummer/producer Barb “Muzikaldunk” Duncan.
Oakland guitar ace Jeff Massanari has assembled an all-star quintet with sensational vocalist Kenny Washington for a concert at the Empress Theater presented by the Vallejo Jazz Society. Whether he’s scatting with the rhythmic panache of a bebop alto saxophonist, crooning ballads, or delivering simmering soul anthems, Washington is one of the world’s finest male jazz singers. An undersung master himself, Massanari is joined by an indomitable cast with trumpeter Erik Jekabson, bassist John Wiitala, and drummer Alan Hall.
Argentine jazz vocalist Sofía Rei provided one of the most enthralling performances at John Zorn’s 65th-birthday-celebration residency last September at The Chapel, and she returns to town for another bracing shot of Zorn’s new music with two shows at the SFJAZZ Center’s Joe Henderson Lab. Featuring Rei on vocals, loops, and the diminutive string charango, and JC Maillard on the custom-built saz bass and vocals, the duo presents music from their recent album Keter (Tzadik), a gorgeous chapter from Zorn’s third and final Masada songbook, The Book Beriah. Rei wrote the Spanish-language lyrics and co-created the arrangements with Maillard, a singular musician from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe who has performed widely around the Bay Area with the resurgent Lisa Fischer.
While a startlingly talented new generation of jazz singers has come to the fore over the past decade (see: Cécile McLorin Salvant, Veronica Swift, Cyrille Aimée and Jazzmeia Horn), there’s no gainsaying the potent pleasures provided by a veteran song stylist. Catherine Russell is the best in the business, “a dogged song sleuth with a vast and varied book of salty blues, swooning ballads, pre-World War II pop tunes and vintage R&B,” to quote myself in the Chronicle. She makes her Venetian Room debut presented by Bay Area Cabaret with her focusing on songs from her excellent new album Along Together (Dot Time Records) and 2016’s Grammy-nominated Harlem on My Mind (Jazz Village). She’s joined by her expertly swinging band with guitarist Matt Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane, and bassist Tal Ronen.