Monika Heidemann 55 Bar, New York, New York December 14, 2005
Singer Monika Heidemann, whose album Bright I recently reviewed, appeared with her band at 55 Bar on Christopher Street in NYC for a 7:00-9:00PM show. It was a very cold evening, and it was just as well that things did not get started until 7:30, since that was when the crowd arrived, seemingly all at the same time. Doing tunes both on and off the album, Heidemann was in good voice, and the band in good form, despite the fact that they really could not let go in the small space of 55 Bar. Coming from yet another angle and influence, true jazz was played at a very high level. It is always interesting to hear a live performance of studio material, and see how the "extra" things that can happen in the studio get handled live. In the case of Bright, there were some extra voices and instruments. It turned out, however, that the only thing missing was the studio polish, which was to be expected, and which, however, was replaced by the impact of a live performance.
Heidemann's compositions start from somewhat stream-of-consciousness poetry, both her own and others, with the music following the accents of the text, spinning out melodies of no fixed structure. The arrangements, therefore, are more complex than usual. Her voice is very clear and she sings with very little vibrato, making it more of an instrument on par with the rest of the band.
The players were superb. Vibraphonist Matt Moran uses four mallets, sometimes using a bass bow to get a singing sound. He said that this technique was common in a classical new music setting, but not generally in use in jazz. He also used a variable vibrato pedal, which he said was unique. Doug Young's guitar playing was very interesting in that he not only put effects to good use, but what he played was not in the common guitar idiom. Even more amazing was the fact that drummer Simon Lott and bassist Derek Layes were subbing and had little rehearsal, but nevertheless sounded as spontaneous as Moran and Young; such is the high degree of musicianship in New York City.
When the band got the chance to improvise, the sound created was thrilling, with Moran and Young blending their sounds behind each other, in front of the driving propulsion of Lott and Layes.
The music was new, different and very creative. It engaged the mind while getting everyone moving. The set was wonderful and the Monika Heidemann Band shows real promise.