Spa Little Theater
Saratoga Springs, New York
Vocalist Rachael Price is creating a stir in the jazz world and with good reason. She's a follower of the tradition and at age 23 has tremendous potential. In addition to her rich, strong voice and adept jazz phrasing, she has poise and personalitya stage manner that belies her years and creates a charming charisma.
Those characteristics are good for the PR machine, but she backs it up with her music, as was generously on display on May 29 at the Spa Little Theater in Saratoga Springs, NY, part of a concert series presented by Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the venue that has hosted a major jazz festival since 1978, created by George Wein and for several years now operated as Freihofer's Jazz Festival. Price brought in a fine trio to back her set of mostly songs from the Great American Songbook. About half of the tunes came from her CD, The Good Hours (Claire Vision Productions, 2008).
Price is the real deal, a young talent with an enormous upside. Every so often over the last decade or so, singers create a buzz. People are looking for the next big-box office music sensation, such as a Diana Krall. Some of those careers are short-lived, and prove the buzz unfounded. Some, like Roberta Gambarini, break through and continue to soar because the cream rises to the top. That latter category should be the future for Price.
She sings in the mainstream, her influences starting with Ella Fitzgerald and running down a list including Sarah Vaughan, Anita O'Day and Peggy Lee. She doesn't deconstruct songs and re-invent like Betty Carter did and Cassandra Wilson does. She examines the composition through a traditional lens and her interpretations are captivating.
On the opener, Richard Whiting's-Johnny Mercer's "Too Marvelous for Words," she exhibited her strong voice, innate sense of swing and knack for attractive phrasing without harming the melody. It's hard to determine how much is pre on-the-spot improv and what is routine. But no matter. She's a jazz singer and an outstanding one. Her scatting on Harold Arlen's "Get Happy" was commendable, playing with harmony and melody.
Harry Warren's ballad "Serenade in Blue" she made look easy. The song and the arrangement, used as a theme by trombonist Tommy Dorsey, are tricky for a vocalist, requiring good control and strength of both voice and conviction. Peggy Lee's "I Don't Know Enough About You" was executed with the right amount of saccharine delivery and savoir faire; a superb rendition just this side of too sexy. On Arlen-Mercer's "Old Black Magic," she played slightly behind the beat at times and never got lost.
Among highlights were "You Go To My Head," a fresh arrangement (bassist Erik Privert did many of the arrangements) that Price did convincingly, and Hoagy Carmichael's-Mercer's "Skylark," done at the kind of exaggerated slow tempo that can expose the limitations of lesser singers. Her pristine voice and heartfelt interpretation enabled the song to take flight.
The set was greatly assisted by the presence of accompanist Sergio Salvatore, an accomplished young pianist who started recording on big labels like GRP when he was 11. Not all pianists are suitable for complementing a singer. Salvatore was up to the task, hand-in-glove with Price, and also an engaging soloist each time he was called upon. A pleasure.
Price herself is a pleasure. Not that she doesn't have room to grow, but in the direction she's headed, it should be a revelatory voyage to watch and enjoy as each stage of her career blossoms.