The blood red walls and dreamy Nag Champa haze of Santa Monica's Temple Bar enshrined a performance by Dawn Norfleet's Jazz Project. Dr. Norfleet's examination of soul jazz and funk found the patient healthy and ready to sweat. The sound system caught Norfleet's flute's full round tone, and her strong expressive 3.5 octave vocalizations. Norfleet packed her deck with aces. An associate of Kenny Garrett, Stanley Clarke, and Stevie Wonder, pianist Nik Smith chorded with conviction and took limber runs. Rahsaan Fredericks brought a bass case stickered by Liberty Ellman, John Santos, Omar Sosa, and Mickey Hart, making him beat worthy yet agile. Making sure everyone swung hard, drummer Cora Coleman shred her ability to funk through a gargantuan technique. The Guitar Center 2002 Drum Off Winner, and already an alumnus of Pink, Zac Harmon, and Phil Upchurch, played crisp riffs with unexpected punch. The undisputed powercell of the unit, her tumultuous attack threatened to upstage the boss.
Norfleet introduced "Imaginate," launching the melody on her flute's rich low octave. The rhythm section gave her tight, responsive support, Coleman spitting nails. Norfleet took sweeping, well articulated runs, flute ringing. After that stylish warm up, the gloves came off for "Good Fred Oil." Coleman drove the torrid funk breakdown with sizzling rim work underscored by a hard kicked bass drum. Fredericks played it slippery sly, and Smith flicked a switch to get a chewy chunky Rhodes sound. Norfleet hummed unison with her flute, and Fredericks rolled low. Then returning the flute to its stand, Norfleet soared through improvised vocalese, careening through the soulful strut.
Giving the room a rest, the Jazz Project played "Sister Moon" as a smokey torch song. Smith essayed an elegant exposition. At first, scatting on the low burner, Norfleet blew the lid off with simmering soul. "Get ready to dance," she said to start "You Walk Then Fly." A time change device took Coleman's funkfest in a swing direction and back. Smith answered the smooth fluid flute solo with a two handed orchestral solo that pushed the seething rhythm. Coleman poured gasoline on any flame she found. Introducing "19 Gone" her requiem for Tyisha Miller, a young girl mistakenly gunned down by police as she dozed in a car, Norfleet sang her heart wrenching lament about "one more brown child in the past."
The Jazz Project ended with Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue," though most know it from Coltrane's recording. Coleman began with mallets. Smith gracefully laced the familiar theme with vining unfamiliar melodies of his own. On flute, Norfleet picked up from Smith, then sang the lyric. She improvised in near-Ripperton range, Coleman balancing hard bashing and brisk.
Norfleet's devastating one-two performance punch of potent instrumentalist and powerful vocalist charged the Monday night crowd. Here's hoping the Jazz Project has legs.
Visit Dawn Norfleet on the web at www.dawnnorfleet.com