Elizabeth Kontomanou at Tanjazz Festival 2013
Palais des Institutions Italiennes
September 21, 2013
Females have always held an important position in the jazz world, especially as singers. Since the demise of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and some unforgettable female voices, other singers have arisen vying for attention, willing to keep the tradition of the word in jazz and the worldess sound as well. One of those staunch perpetuators is vocalist Elizabeth Kontomanou. A long-standing figure in the jazz scene since the 80's when she was discovered by the legendary composer/arranger Michel Legrand, Kontomanou has been interpreting classics and thinking of sounds before lyrics. A master scat vocalist, she has asserted herself as one of the leading female voices today.
Featured as the leading star of the Tanjazz Festival, Kontomanou seemed glad to tread the stage with the family trio, composed of three sons: drummer Donald Kontomanou, Guitarist Joey Belmondo, and Pianist Gustav Karlström, along with long time companion, bassist Thomas Bramerie.
In the open air, and placed in the middle of the Italian institutions palace, the stage was appropriate for her concert and was scheduled ahead of all the other performances. Indeed, as part of a Saturday evening hosting ten bands in the different corners of the palace, in the tradition of Tanjazz Festival, Kontomanou's show was given prominence.
The singer opened the set with the classic "Sunny." Full of rhythm, the song revealed to the audience the talent of Bramerie, and the enthusiasm of Kontomanou to perform a love song. Accompanied by wah wah guitar solos and a conversational style with Kontomanou's scatting, Belmondo's gifted playing was revealed and highly cheered by the audience.
Relating part of her dim homeless life in New York, Kontomanou paid tribute to a person who helped her go through life's tribulations. Much saddened in the beginning, the song turned quickly into a bebop tune in which both Bramerie and Donald jammed through, attended by an unconditional scatting of Kontomanou.
Next was a rendition of Billie Holiday's song "Tell me More and More and Then Some." Kontomanou, with full presence and charisma, added thick texture to the original song. She paused often and then made signs to the musicians to resume in vigor, singing in Carmen McRae's shredded style.
The fourth song was yet another tune by Holiday, "The Blues are Brewin." With a colorful touch of blues by Belmondo, who gained ground on Tanjazz scene by the abundant cheers he drew, the song further sounded like soul music. Kontomanou affirmed her talent again at wordless vocals.
Another linguistic talent of Kontomanou is her good articulation of the French language. She grew up in Paris and ever since her French has been impeccable. As a matter of fact, the new unreleased album includes two songs in French, which she confessed were played for the first time in a concert. In the style of vocalist and song writer Jacques Brel, she performed a thoughtful, literate and theatrical song. Karlström's piano work ascended bit by bit to finally provide space for Belmondo to play moaning blues guitar solos. The second French song was a rendition of vocalist Charles Aznavour's "Sur Ma Vie." Known by the Moroccan audience, the song was highly appreciated.
In a different register, Kontomanou showed the long-time collaboration with bassist Bramerie through an intimate rendition of the jazz standard "Skylark." Alone on the darkened stage and next to each other, Kontomanou and Bramerie responded to each other as Bramerie followed the lyrics while Kontomanou attended to rhythm. The duet encored with "Summertime" but this time with an emphasis on scat and improvisation.
Still improvising, Kontomanou interacted with the audience through a love song. In the middle of a rhythmic section, she addressed the audience "Do you believe in love?" then invited spectators to shake hands or exchange kisses. Then she asked if there was a handsome man to give her a kiss. The sensational audacity of Kontomanou elicited hoorahs and applause, and two females and males climbed the stage to offer a kiss to her.
The audience naturally asked for an encore; however the quintet disappeared through a thunder of claps and cheers, and only Karlström returned to play a piano interlude. Then the rest of the band appeared again and through a standing ovation, the quintet performed Mahalia Jackson's "In the Upper Room." In a gospel music tradition, Kontomanou repeated words in call and response with an ascending voice. The band followed to reach a close, then jammed wildly over the gospel rhythm.