René Marie has a distinctive and enormously attractive vocal sound, which is allied to consummate technical gifts. She wraps it all in a coating of natural warmth and sincerity that makes every track, be it an up tempo swinger or an evocative ballad, a thorough delight. All of her MaxJazz CDs provide exceptional performances by a singer of extraordinary merit. As her audiences know, although René Marie’s repertoire is based firmly in the great standards of jazz and popular music, she brings to everything that she does her own distinctive, and sometimes daring, interpretations that revitalize songs that are in danger of overexposure. On all of her MaxJazz CDs, she delivers an exhilarating mix of those standards with occasional departures into songs that appear to be decidedly offbeat choices for a jazz singer. Such are her qualities that she is able to transmute everything into a true jazz experience because this is jazz singing at its very best.
On How Can I Keep From Singing? songs as varied as "The Very Thought Of You", "Afro Blue", "Tennessee Waltz" and "God Bless The Child" all rub congenial shoulders. On Vertigo René makes one of those unusual choices, daringly and imaginatively blending two songs in a manner that defies expectations and creates a deeply moving experience. Over the years "Dixie" has acquired connotations of racism, but, as René has pointed out, it also has a rather nice melody (made clear thanks to the languorous tempo she chooses) and a lyric that longingly recalls home in the South. On this level alone, it should therefore not be at all a surprising choice for a black singer. What makes René's performance so dramatically stunning is the audacious juxtaposition of this "Dixie" with "Strange Fruit" - a song that unflinchingly portrays a bitterly different image of the South.
An aural impression of René’s on-stage persona comes with her third MaxJazz CD, Live At Jazz Standard, whereon she offers standards such as ""Deed I Do" and "A Foggy Day" to a receptive nightclub audience. Here also is another of those striking musical moments when she combines two seemingly disparate pieces of music. René takes the compelling rhythmic undertow of Ravel’s "Bolero" and overlays it with "Suzanne" to create something that is powerful and memorable.
Additionally and importantly, René's repertoire includes many of her own compositions. Among those that appear on these CDs are "Hurry Sundown", "Shelter In Your Arms", "Vertigo", "Don’t Look At Me Like That", "I’d Rather Talk About You" and "I Like You". These songs not only demonstrate her strong sense of structure and form alongside a heartfelt love of melody, but they also vividly display her ability to transmute her life experiences into lyrics of rich emotional depths.
There are more songs to write, more songs to sing, more projects to undertake. "During the next two years I plan to compose more, develop my publishing company, Stoan Publishing, Inc., and my touring company, Sound of Red, LLC. We hope to have our own team working for us and our own recording studio and label within the next two years."
As the end of 2003 approached, René Marie had a new trio behind her: Takana Miyomoto, piano, Addae, soprano saxophone, Herman Burney, bass, Quentin Baxter, drums. She also had a new agency acting on her behalf, the Brad Simon Organization at 122 E. 57th Street, New York City, NY 10022.
She is facing the future with earned confidence. Looking back at what this remarkable woman has done in the past four years it is impossible to imagine that René Marie will fail in any of her self-appointed tasks. It is similarly impossible not to concede that she deserves all of her hard-won success, and more.
As for future challenges; however much they might daunt her at first, there seems little doubt that she will address them boldly and, when push comes to shove, she will remember and act upon that maxim that has guided her towards her present success:
Jump and the net will appear.
Bruce Crowther writes on jazz and other topics. For details see his website: www.swing2bop.com .