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Tessa Souter Quartet: Half Moon Bay, California, December 2, 2012

Bill Leikam By

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Tessa Souter Quartet
Bach Dynamite & Dancing Society
Douglas Beach House
Half Moon Bay, CA

December 2, 2012

Traveling to the west coast from New York, Tessa Souter brought with her the wonderful tenor saxophonist and flautist Don Braden and they teamed up with friends Christian Tamburr on vibraphone, John Shiflett on bass, Akira Tana on drums. Having had a huge storm come through that morning, many wondered whether the turnout for Souter's performance would be light. As it turned out, the house was just over three quarters full, showing everyone that no matter what the weather, people will come to hear this woman sing.

Souter can draw a substantial audience due to her unique phrasing, storytelling lyrics, and vocal ranges that run throughout the spectrum: sometimes low, almost crying and then before you know it she'll smoothly swing up into the happy high notes. When the audience thinks they know what she's going to do, she blithely turns it all around and hands them a brilliant surprise. A part of her performance at the Douglas Beach House was from her newest album Beyond the Blue (Motéma Music, 2012), and album that clearly demonstrates how gutsy this woman is—it is structurally taken from classical music compositions such as "Prelude to the Sun," based on Beethoven's Symphony 7, Movement 2, arranged by vibraphonist Joe Locke, and "Chiaroscuro," Adagio in G minor, by Tomaso Albinoni, adapted for jazz by Souter, to name but two. Others have tried to do similar things with classical music and jazz. Where others have failed, Souter succeeds because she doesn't fall into the trap of mimicking classical instead of remaining true to jazz.

Souter has an uncanny way of feeling the music and translating it into soulful lyrics, some of them dark and brooding while others are upbeat and carefree. Her rendition of "Just One of those Things" began with a slow, not-quite-sultry few bars, and just when one began to fall into that feeling, she burst into an upbeat song that rose straight from her heart. Braden entered and blew a sax solo that pushed the tune out on the edge before Souter returned, phrasing the lyrics cleanly and clearly. Tamburr picked it up on his vibes and like Braden, took off with the tune and laid it out with a nice smooth-yet-powerful run across the bars as Shiflett on bass and Tana on drums carried the rhythm, backing Souter all the way to the final note.

The title song for her new album, "Beyond the Blue," for which Souter wrote the lyrics, is based on Chopin's Prelude in E minor, Opus 28, Number 4. As she opened the song, her voice was haunting as though she was searching deep into a mystery that was beyond. With that established, Braden took a long, variegated flute solo, laying down coloring that was in keeping with Souter's lyrics. Out of the flute solo, Shiflett picked up a bass line that increased the tempo until Souter sang the song to its finish.

There was so much in this concert and the new album that it's difficult to capture the true spirit of it all. Souter sang dark pieces of lost love, sometimes of requited love, and then too a love song with lyrics like "You are the song that wakes up my heart." In the song "Brand New Day," based on Faure's "Elegy," Souter's lyrics are about being optimistic when everything's falling apart. Not only was that the flavor of the piece, but when Tamburr led it off on his vibes, he presented a feeling of optimism, as did Braden when he took a featured spot and gave the song a strong and uplifting spirit through his sax.

As "Brand New Day" ended, so too ended the concert. The audience gave an extended ovation in appreciation for an afternoon and evening of daring, beautiful jazz based on classical music. Afterward, down in the green room, Souter asked if the concert worked. Everyone affirmed that it certainly had and for those who had heard her perform more than once, several suggested that this concert based on her newest album was the best so far.

Photo credit:

Chuck Gee

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