Several blocks from the fuss and hype of the headlining acts at the Montreal International Jazz Festival resides one of the festival's great developments through the years. Club Soda, a rather intimate shoebox of a room holding 550 people on three seating levels, is home to an early evening singers' series appropriately called "Voix du Monde" (Voices of the World).
It's a chance to hear a range of quality female singers from within and on the fringes of the jazz or popular music tradition, as well younger artists continuing to push the art forward - or stretch its boundaries with new material.
Over four of those nights, there was an opportunity to check out four of such artists.
California-based Tierney Sutton and her band have attained a high level in developing their music. Sutton has one of the purest musical voices around and it is always in tune with her band of 11 years: pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker.
Her evening's highlights included Bill Evans' "Blue in Green," a scat-started "I Get a Kick Out of You," a freshly arranged aching version of the Deitz and Schwartz classic "Haunted Heart" and "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face" (instead of the traditional "her,") with a sensational piano solo from French-born Jacob and creative brush work from Brinker. (For more details, see July 7's separate Sutton performance review ).
Amy Winehouse (see photo above) is a young Londoner with a deep and earthy sort of R&B groove, singing primarily her own material with a growling, sometimes funky, modern soul. That could lead a listener to ponder what the voice of a black woman is doing in the body of a young white woman. In that regard, she reminds of 1960s London jazz singer Julie Driscoll-Tippets.
Most of the jazz in Winehouse's July 7 Montreal performance came from the soloing in her young band. Many of the tunes, including "Stronger Than Me," were about the travails and woes of one of her prior relationships. Her few covers included "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes" and Stevie Wonder's "When Autumn Comes Around."
Stacey Kent is New York-born and based in London, where she won different British jazz singer of the year honors in 2001 and 2002. She sings primarily the American Songbook with a youthful sweet charm and confidence that fits well - if not better - in the cabaret scene.
She opened her show with "The Best is Yet to Come" - and a knowing glance and smile for her husband, tenor saxophonist Jim Tomlinson. He is a horn player straight out of the Stan Getz mold. His bright tone complements Kent very well. First set treats from Kent & Co. included the little-heard "Say It Isn't So," "It Might as Well Be Spring," "Stardust" and the carefree and upbeat "Shall We Dance?" She received tremendous crowd response after singing "I Wish You Love" in French.
The final two nights of the 10-artist Club Soda vocal series were reserved for Montreal's own Coral Egan. This fine singer could be mistaken for a young Diana Krall both in looks and presentation, though her music inhabits another genre. Call it pop-rock with a jazz sensibility. Musically, she could be eastern Canada's version of Sarah McLachlan. She's clearly a star in the making, as evidenced by the fact that she sold out the room on both nights, July 9 and 10.
All of her first set material on the 9th was original, presented with humor and a bilingual ease. At one point, she told the crowd she speaks "Frenglish." One of her more interesting lyrics came on "Vertigo," a tune she said was all about "instability - sort of an addiction for an artist."
Eleven nights, 10 singers. A series of which Montreal can be proud. I wish I'd heard them all.