Chris' Jazz Café
December 17, 2005
Meg Clifton's new CD, You're a Sweetheart (independent), is a rich compendium of jazz standards sung with uncommon grace, resilence, and interpretive richness. On December 17th, 2005, this reviewer attended two sets of her CD Release event at Chris' in Philadelphia. She was accompanied by trumpeter John Swana, saxophonist Victor North, pianist (and Clifton's fiancée) Matt Mitchell, bassist Lee Smith, and drummer Dan Monaghan, all of whom provided extended improvisations. Swana, Smith, and Monaghan are in the quintet on the CD.
There isn't a great deal to add to the CD review as such, except to say what a delightful, swinging evening of music making Clifton and the group offered. The musicians were at their relaxed best, and the atmosphere at Chris' was pleasant and festive, what with the occasion and the approaching Christmas and New Years' holidays. Clifton, looking gorgeous, performed several numbers from the CD, most notably an upbeat version of "Alone Together and the title song, "You're a Sweetheart. In addition, she did a lovely rendition of "I'm Old Fashioned, and a double-time version of "Bye Bye Blackbird, along with a host of other tunes familiar to every listener. Clifton did some interesting scat choruses on several of the songs, while there is no scat singing on the CD.
Only in her mid-twenties, Clifton is already a skilled, mature, and accomplished vocalist. Like the great Billie Holiday, she works superbly and quite actively with her instrumentalists, creating a strong ensemble effect. Also like Holiday, she puts herself wholly into the meaning of the song and has a perfect sense of pitch and timing. Clifton's style is unique yet classic, and difficult to describe, except that she breathes life into every notethere is a sustained intensity and interest. She makes careful use of dynamics and timing.
A lady friend who attended with me noted a stylistic resemblance to Anita O'Day. Their voices differ in quality, but Clifton does have O'Day's quick vitality, and uses vibrato sparingly. And they both create subtle jazz inflections in their voicing of melodies. Clifton, like O'Day, is a "smart singer who has a "no nonsense approach to the music and avoids excessive sentimentality. A poster of Charlie Parker hangs above and behind the stage at Chris', and a touch of Bird's bebop tradition lives on in Clifton's style. She also gives an impression of a "big band influence, although most singers today rarely have the kind of big band honing that O'Day and others like Chris Connor and June Christie were fortunate to have garnered.
I told Clifton to remember me when she becomes famous. I do believe this young diva has a well-deserved great career ahead of her. If you have an opportunity to hear her perform, be there. The audience at Chris' obviously loved her singing, and you will, too.
Richard Timbers II