Joanne Shaw Taylor Flynn Center for the Performing Arts Burlington, Vermont November 16, 2023
Around the mid-point of Joanne Shaw Taylor's near two-hour single set on the main stage of the Flynn Center, she and her hirsute band of musicianly brothers spent almost ten minutes working up a head of steam that, upon its rousing conclusion, brought most of the select attendees to their feet in ovation.
It was a remarkable juncture in the performance for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that, most crucially, the moment was a natural extension of the intensity that had been building slowly but surely over the course of the previous sixty minutes or so.
Yet, mere moments later, in the wake of the hard-charging "Won't Be Fooled Again," the British blueswoman was quietly fingering an acoustic guitar on "Fade Away" in direct and delicate exhibition of its heartfelt introduction as an original song sourced in thoughts of her now deceased mother.
Whether ratcheting up the collective power of the quartet with solos that cut like a scythe through the loud instrumental sound, as on "Nobody's Fool," or focusing her husky, sultry voice on an emotive rendition of "If You've Got To Make A Fool Of Somebody," the flaxen-haired Shaw Taylor thus captured and held the attention of the increasingly demonstrative audience (including but not limited to those intervals that bordered on contrivance when she stood in front of a floor fan stage left, allowing her long golden tresses to blow back and up into the air).
Notwithstanding the theatrics, however, the frontwoman's solos sounded both well-thought out and spontaneous. Through "Keep On Loving Me" and "Dying to Know," it was striking to feel the extra intensity arising from such interludes, especially as Shaw Taylor exhibited so plentiful a supply of ideas, she didn't repeat herself or resort to crowd-pleasing shtick.
In sharp contrast to that wide swath of the bandleader's fretboard maneuvers, guitarist Joey Spina was the ideal foil with his pithy Fender runs offered. The rhythm section of bassist Steve Lehane and drummer Eric Savage likewise refused to call attention to itself, remaining as unobtrusive yet consistently present in their support as keyboardist Phil Whitfield, whose dignified piano work was no less fervent than the swirls of organ he unfurled at various points.
In such stalwart company, the distaff musician discovered by the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart further ingratiated herself with the approximately two-hundred-fifty select attendees by dint of her between-song repartee. Alternately self-deprecating and genuinely witty, she was above all uncommonly intelligent and gracious, thereby initiating and maintaining a bond with those presenthouse lights up at her request or not---that held fast until she walked off the stage for the final time after the fitting encore of "Going Home."
That subdued climax was one of those moments so rare in the live music experience too often rendered rote, impersonal and antiseptic. But Joanne Shaw Taylor left an unusually deep and abiding impression on this Vermont house, in part because she and her ensemble didn't try too hard to distinguish themselves: understatement is the unit's stock-in-trade.
For instance, the bandleader tendered no overt gestures to authenticate her devotion to the blues (apart from her aside about quitting school at fifteen to play guitar). But then, with the pulsing likes of "Runaway," she didn't have to: such moments spoke volumes in and of themselves, all the more loudly because the fivesome knew intuitively when they'd played a tune just long enough (apart from the aforementioned blues, three-to five minutes in duration).
With no more saccharine melodrama there than histrionics that might've otherwise plagued earlier segments of the concertlike the ode to the Eighties in the form of "Can't You See" or the Fabulous Thunderbirds' cover "Two Time My Lovin'Joanne Shaw Taylor turned her first appearance in the Green Mountains into a tacit proposal to return. Perhaps the curators of the 2024 Discover Jazz Festival will see fit to reinstate the 'Blues Tent' at Waterfront Park so she can pay further homage to the idiom on the shores of Lake Champlain.
(Special thanks to Sal): In The Mood; Keep On Loving Me; Nobody's Fool; If You've Got to Make a Fool Can't You See; Two Time My Lovin'; Dying To Know; Bad Blood; Won't Be Fooled Again; Watch 'Em Burn; I've Been Loving You Too Long; Fade Away; Runaway; Sweet Li'l Lies; Bad Love; Going Home.
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