In the spirit of man bites dog, this is an album whose parts are greater than its sum.
Jackie Naylor has a strong voice, good supporting players, a catchy "acoustic smashing" concept of singing the lyrics of one song to the tune of a second, and the freedom of stretching out in a double-disc live setting. But ultimately there's an uneven quality to 2005's Live East-West: Birdland/Yoshi's, with the fiery highlights diluted by too many lackluster and awkward moments.
Naylor at her best possesses the rich vocal timbre of Billie Holiday (if not quite at the level of, say, Madeleine Peyroux) and the folk/rock passion of Carole King. The Holiday presence emerges strongly on "But Not For Me," which goes from traditional ballad to a syncopated beat and finally to a mid-tempo swing, and plenty of passion is injected into the original blues/rock "Don't Let The Bastard Get You Down." The "smashing" conceptthankfully not overused to the point of wearing out its noveltycan also provide some wild moments, such as "My Funny Valentine" performed to what (I believe) is an AC/DC-inspired vamp, and "Black Coffee" mixed with Led Zeppelin. Other "standards" run the range from Jimi Hendrix to Gershwin.
The downside are moments like the evenhanded and unemotive vocals on "Once In A Lifetime," set to a Detroit-style oldies rock beat, and a rushed and forced feel to the arrangement of "For What It's Worth" to the beat of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." The worst part is many of these come early in the show, before she seems to unwind and get more passionate and playful with her audience.
The supporting cast, when not providing simple accompaniments for low-key compositions like "Me And Mr. Jones," is first-rate nearly all the way. Pianist Ark Khu is the most prominent, with only one example being his mixing an excellent set of intense chord and runs on "So Far Away," but nearly everyone else has moments (with multiple guitarists and bass players, sorting everyone out for credit is a bit tricky). Drummer Micha Patri, aside from some of the ill-fitting "smashes," paces things well with support that is varied and interactive without intruding.
Some may question whether Naylor is really an adult contemporary/folk singing merely borrowing a bit of jazz to accent her work, but her experimentation and variety far surpasses the likes of Norah Jones and others to whom such comparisons might be made. There's better and more heartfelt material to be heard on her earlier albums, but Live East-West still possesses enough strong qualities to reaffirm her talent.
Personnel: Jacqui Naylor (vocals); Ark Khu (electric guitar, piano, organ); Michael Romanowski (steel
guitar); Brian Pardo (nylon-string guitar); Jon Evans, Ugonna Okegwo, Emmanuel Vaughan-
Lee (bass instrument); Josh Jones, Micha Patri (drums, percussion); Danny Gottlieb (drums);
Alison Evans (background vocals)