Foundry 616, November 16
It’s the difference between engaging the audience and casting a spell. Not many can do it, but jazz singer Charenee Wade can. Betty Carter was a supreme exemplar, and while Wade’s spell is not yet as profound as Carter’s, she has Carter-like raw materials in her singing, musicianship, sensibilities, conviction.
This concert’s focus was on the music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, the former an influential African American poet, singer and songwriter whose work blazed in the cause of racial equality. Among the most potent pieces in a night of highlights was Essex, on which Wade built a vocal solo up from the simplest motifs into a towering inferno. Yet she could also sing at a whisper with same power. On Song of the Wind she scatted as softly as a cat purring, and the ending had her voice barely discernible, like a dried raindrop on a window. She also delighted in the game of making music, spreading that delight about the stage. Often she sang with probing eye-contact directly to Oscar Perez (the brilliant pianist she brought from New York), bassist Brett Hirst or drummer Paul Derricott (both of whom she picked up in Sydney), intensifying the dialogue – like a good host introducing guests at a party.
But she didn’t want polite accompaniment, she wanted rocket fuel.
Meanwhile she exhibited four hallmarks of any exceptional performing artist: absence of self-consciousness, effortlessness of execution, complete control over the outcome, and applying every tool in the service of her art, including using the extremities of her vocal range without a hint of grandstanding.
Perez deserves an entire review of similar acclaim. The pianist’s every solo deepened the music’s spell, and his instincts for shadowing Wade and providing springboards for her were exceptional. Hirst and Derricott were at their finest, too, the former’s solo introduction to A Toast to the People aching with yearning, and the latter having an answer for every question Wade’s arrangements and improvising posed in terms of dynamics, colour and energy.