Rickie Lee Jones is a pure artist. She’s not a dyed-in-the-wool jazzer, though improvisation is an important part of what she does (more than many jazz singers I’ve heard). She’s part poet, part beatnik. She’s part coquette and part of her just tells what she observes in life.
(Art... n’est pas?)
What she really is, is just Rickie Lee Jones. Period. She has a sound and an approach that is all her own, whether it’s a jazz standard — of which she’s recorded many — a folksy song, a ballad, or whether she chooses to rock out. Her vocals can run from the softest ebb to a flowing scream. It’s identifiable and its heartfelt and it’s hip. Like Bille was. Like Carmen. And like Abbey. She’s not in their footsteps, but she came from the same stuff, where expression and getting the point across is fundamental.
At a concert in Albany, NY, on June 20 at The Egg (One can never grow tired of that venue under the direction of the eclectic and esteemed Peter Lesser), Jones was superb. The songs, some that her loyal followers know well and most from The Evening of My Best Day , her latest CD, were delivered in a fashion far more electric and exciting than how they were recorded. They were even different, at times than her January performance at the Calvin Theater in Northampton, Mass., due to how she approached them vocally, different accents, different slides of her voice, different nuance.
That, boys and girls, is an artist.
And the music covered a lot of ground. Her opener, “Hi-Lil-Li, Hi-Lo” was a girlish, yet in her hands sensual, ballad. Her voice is expressive, sliding up and down scales, but also taking on characteristics from conversational to cute to raucous. “Ugly Man,” her portrayal of President Bush, is a sweet tune with soft jazz elements that almost belies the message. (She didn’t perform her skewering of the Patriot Act, “Tell Somebody,” which preached, pleaded and prodded the audience in January. Perhaps because it was her last U.S. concert for a while, as she was about to go to Europe for a series of gigs including some on a bill with guitar wizard Bill Frisell).
“Bitchenostrophy" had a distinct Latin jazz feel that kicked into an even deeper jazz feel. And speaking of jazz, “On the Street Where You Live” was straight 4/4 jazz, in which she let the band swing for a while before she even jumped in. And each time she sang a verse, the phrasing was different, toying with the rhythm. Cassandra Wilson would have been proud.
“Sailor Song” and “A Tree in Allenford” were typical of her introspective storytelling. Gentle, yet poignant. And utterly poetic and musical. And other songs could be soft, then kick into a different mood or scene, and back to soft. Not confusing. Interesting. Like “Mink Coat at the Bus Stop” that jumps from funky blues to a soft observation that “everyone needs love and understanding,” and back again.
People loved standards like “Weasel and White Boy Cool,” and “Last Chance Texaco.” Her segue to the piano bench, where she played exquisite versions of “The Magazine” and “Coolsville,” was sublime, showing her at her most theatrical... emotive and animated.
She even played the bulk of the band’s guitar work through the evening in the absence of longtime colleague Sal Bernardi, who didn’t make The Egg, but played The Calvin a few months earlier.
Rickie Lee Jones is a singer of indomitable artistic spirit and expression. Don’t think genre. Just enjoy her for what she is: a superb talent who has the ability to generate ideas with genuine feeling and emotion. She puts it across in a style that is all her own. And she gathers fans — not in “pop” multitudes, but in enough numbers that shows there is strength in ART, even during times when it appears most think that three-letter word is a four-letter word, and wouldn’t know it if it walked up to them and bit them in the a-s-s.
Visit Rickie Lee Jones on the web at www.rickieleejones.com .
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