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Live Review

Tessa Souter Trio at Soapbox Gallery

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Tessa Souter Trio
Soapbox Gallery
Brooklyn, NY
January 26, 2021

During the pandemic, live streaming on line is the closest thing we can get to a live concert or club date, Many of the streamed jazz shows are well done despite the unusual situation with masks, social distance, etc., but this one with Tessa Souter stood out in the crowd due largely to Souter's exceptional poise and finesse both personally and in her singing. Dressed in basic black and standing tall with pianist Luis Perdomo just behind her on the left, and bassist Yasushi Nakamura on the right, she looked, spoke, and sang with calm and grace as if she, a trace of her English accent still with her after many years living in New York, might have withstood the London Blitz without batting an eyelash. Only a closeup of her face showed some traces of the pandemic's tensions and the aftermath of the Capitol attack, and her singing, always lucid and well-articulated, is never afraid to express the emotions that life's wounds inflict on us. Souter is truly a "first lady of song" if there ever was one, and she delivered a set that showed how much beauty, truth, and honest self-expression remain with us despite the injuries they have suffered from the pandemic, political tensions, alternate realities, and -for musicians and their fans -the lack of live concert and nightclub venues.

As always in her albums and live performances, Souter chose songs most of which are just a bit outside the standard fare of jazz vocalists but allow for penetrating self-expression. For starters, "Love Theme from Spartacus" is a tune taken up many times by pianist Bill Evans. Furthermore, "Blue in Green" is an Evans original (not Miles Davis' as some think), to which Souter set her own lyrics which somehow fit well with the unconventional impressionist harmonies that leave the listener suspended in space rather than humming the rather elusive melody. Evans' influence was further felt in Souter's use of the trio format in which there was active co-participation of pianist Luis Perdomo and bassist Yasushi Nakamura and opportunities for the latter to improvise around Souter rather than merely sustain the bass line. The absence of drums somehow added to the feeling of intimacy on this occasion.

"Little B's Poem" with Souter's lyrics added to Bobby Hutcherson's composition probably meant for his vibraphone provided a convoluted bebop melody which Souter worked her way around admirably. Wayne Shorter's "Ana Maria" gave Souter an opportunity to discover the vagaries of fate, as the tune was written by Shorter for his beloved wife, who later died in the TWA Flight 800 plane crash over Eastern Long Island, a flight to Paris that she was tragically switched to at the last minute. Souter's way of writing the lyrics in reptrospect conveying the nuances of love vis-à-vis the human condition was especially poignant in the way she gave a sense of sadness to this otherwise gentle paean to a lover. Her interest in instrumentals, and probably her awareness of Shorter's and Herbie Hancock's presence in the famed Miles Davis quintet of the 1960s, showed up in the way she added a chorus of Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" to the standard, "Save Your Love for Me."

"Chiarascuro" (Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor) was taken from Souter's astonishing album Beyond the Blue (Motema, 2012) in which Souter added her own lyrics to music from the classical repertoire to create a stunning set of vocals that transcended genre. And as a kind of an encore (given that social distancing permitted only a very small audience), Souter and the group rounded off the show with a very lively, swinging version of "Caravan," again showing Souter's sense of oneness with her instrumentalists without having to rely on scat singing for such a purpose.

This one hour show was one of a series created and performed at the Soapbox Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, with a very good choice of New York-based working vocalists and instrumentalists whose dedicated artistry deserves wider exposure and recognition. Souter, Perdoma, and Nakamura formed a tight, well-organized unit while at the same time each was able to play in their own unique craftsmanship and style. God willing and the pandemic ends sooner rather than later, those who watched this show will be seeking out opportunities to hear each of these performers individually or as a group.

Set List: Love Theme From Spartacus (Alex North); Alone Together (Arthur Schwarts/Howard Dietz); The Old Country "Nsa Adderly/Curtis Lewis; Little B.'s Poem Bobby Hutcherson/Tessa Souter lyrics); Blue in Green (Bill Evans/Tessa Souter lyrics); Ana Maria (Wayne Shorter /Tessa Souter lyrics) Save Your Love For Me (Buddy Johnson; intro from Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage;" arrangement by Tessa Souter); Chiaroscuro -Tomaso Albinoni's "Adagio in G Minor" (Tessa Souter lyrics); Never Will I Marry (Frank Loesser); Caravan (Juan Tizol/Duke Ellington).

Personnel: Tessa Souter: leader, vocals; Luis Perdomo, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, bass.

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