Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 11/19/09

It’s a fine line in the music blogosphere – nobody wants to come off as a cheerleader for a particular artist or band, yet there are some acts who inarguably deserve a lot of attention. Jenifer Jackson is no stranger to regular readers here. But even by her rigorous standards, her show at the Rockwood on the nineteenth was transcendent, the best one she’s done – in New York at least – in a long time. And there have been some good ones in between, just to go the music index above and you will see plenty. Is this overkill? Not if you consider how the much ink the Village Voice gave the Ramones in the summer of 1977, or how much press Coltrane got back in the 50s. That’s not an overstatement. Jackson and her bandmates pianist Matt Kanelos  (who leads a fine Americana-rock band of his own) and drummer Billy Doughty gave a clinic in tersely, wrenchingly beautiful songcraft, Jackson’s vocals gentle but with the steely resolve that underscores the intensity of the emotion in everything she writes.

Kanelos gave notice that he was in particularly bluesy, soulful mode right from the start, beginnining with the psychedelic ballad The War Is Done, from Jackson’s 2001 Birds cd. Good Times Roll (her original, not the B.B.King standard) was hypnotic, even mesmerizing, Kanelos playfully working a glockenspiel in tandem with his lefthand rhythm. The understated frustration anthem Words got a particularly propulsive treatment; by contrast, the hopeful ballad Spring (yet another unreleased gem) was lush and sultry, Doughty playing the lead line on melodica.

The angst-driven existentialist anthem Maybe, pondering the point at which it might make sense to let hope – of whatever kind – fall by the wayside was driven and insistent, part post-Carole King riffage, part sprightly post-Bacharach pop, part countrypolitan. Wherever the song led, the dark undercurrent beneath the catchy, glistening pop surface was always there.

Her most countrypolitan ballad, After the Fall (also from Birds) got the benefit of an absolutely psychedelic, hypnotic, percussive jam out. She wrapped up the set with two new ones – a chorus-driven, Mary Lee’s Corvette-style Americana pop hit, another that matched early 70s radio pop to a sweaty Philly soul groove, and a particularly wistful, gently lovely take on the unreleased 6/8 ballad The Beauty in the Emptying, whose title pretty much speaks for itself. Doughty again took the lead on melodica, enhancing its gentle resilience. Wow. What a show. You’ll see this on our Best NYC Concerts of 2009 list in about a month.

The Rockwood has been Jackson’s home for awhile but now that she’s back, who knows where she’ll be next – watch this space for upcoming dates.

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November 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rapt, Wrenching Beauty: Jenifer Jackson at Joe’s Pub, NYC 3/28/08

In case you haven’t been paying attention, there’s been a recent crop of songwriters who seem to have decided to write in every single worthwhile style of pop music ever invented – with great success. For one reason or another, maybe having to do with vocals, most of these songwriters are women: Neko Case, Rachelle Garniez and Mary Lee Kortes of Mary Lee’s Corvette, to name a few. New York expat Jenifer Jackson is another.

“Now I know how to get people to come to my shows,” she knowingly told the crowd at Joe’s Pub Friday night. “Leave New York. I’ve figured it out!” Jackson wasn’t exactly a little fish in the pond here, either. Respected by her peers and revered by a fan base for whom she seemingly can do no wrong (if she made an album of Monkees covers, they’d probably buy it), she nonetheless ran into the same brick wall affecting seemingly every New York artist, no matter how well-regarded they might be. Building a following here is tough, with literally scores of live shows competing against each other every night, a hometown media that’s essentially oblivious to hometown acts, and an ongoing process of suburbanization where artistically-inclined New Yorkers are being priced out of their neighborhoods and being replaced by corporate executives and their children from the suburbs. In other words, not exactly the kind of crowd you’d expect to come out to see anything more sophisticated than, say, Justin Timberlake. So Jackson packed up and moved to Austin.

Even more than her show at the Rockwood late last year, this was the emotional homecoming she eventually had to make, and she gave the standing-room-only crowd what they wanted. Playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by just violinist Roland Satterwhite, she ran through a mix of mostly more recent material, including several songs from her most recent (and best) cd The Outskirts of a Giant Town. She also debuted three excellent new songs: a hopeful, midtempo country tune, Spring, that wouldn’t have been out of place on her 2001 album Birds; a pensively catchy, upbeat number possibly titled Tired; and the best of the bunch, a gorgeous, sad country waltz called The Beauty of the Emptying, with one of Jackson’s signature imagistic lyrics. Jackson gets accolades for her songwriting, but tonight was a vivid reminder of what a brilliant song stylist she is, alternating between a nuanced lower register and the soaring, airy delivery that has been her trademark throughout her career. There’s great passion and intensity in her songs and in her voice, but it’s generally very subtle, tonight’s stripped-down arrangements giving her vocals the perfect opportunity to cut through.

“This is a song that earned me two thousand dollars,” she told the crowd with considerable irony before launching into a boisterous version of one of her earliest songs, Mercury, the Sun and Moon, a somewhat eerie tribute to the joys and pleasure of being a bon vivant. When she and Satterwhite reached the bridge, she slammed out the song’s tango rhythm as he went into a frenzied gypsy-inflected solo. They encored with a fetching duet on the standard Every Time We Say Goodbye, Satterwhite switching to guitar. He’s an excellent singer, with a smooth, Chet Baker style delivery, making a good foil for Jackson’s warm, wistful vocals. She ended the song with gentle vocalese, going down the scale with a jazzy seventh chord. More than anything, tonight’s show was a reminder of everything we stand to lose if this city continues the decline that the Bloomberg administration and its developer cronies are dead set on bringing to its logical conclusion.

March 31, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments