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

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 7/20/08

What a treat to see such a major artist, a Lennon/McCartney/Elvis Costello-class songwriter, in such an intimate, sonically beautiful setting. This was the fun set. Jenifer Jackson’s an urban person at heart, and tonight she might as well have been wearing one of those “I heart New York” shirts. Although Jackson relocated to Austin last year, she and her cohorts onstage – Elysian Fields guitarist Oren Bloedow and her longtime drummer Greg Wiz – were just about jumping out of their shoes, unabashedly delighted to be playing with each other again after a long hiatus. Which was particularly striking, because her stock in trade is lush, jazz and tropicalia-inflected songs with a pensive, moody edge. But tonight was just as much a clinic in good times as good songwriting, featuring mostly new material.

The drummer was playing all the new stuff cold, but nobody would have known it if Jackson hadn’t spilled the beans: his feel for her songs is absolutely intuitive. Bloedow played invigoratingly virtuosic, fast bluegrass-inflected lines all night, a striking change from the jazzy noir feel of his own band. “It’s hard to play chicken-scratch sitting down,” Jackson marveled, but it seemed as if Bloedow would have gladly done it behind his back, and well, if anybody had asked him to. The new stuff is sensationally tuneful and emotionally impactful: since her first full-length album, 1999’s Slowly Bright, Jackson hasn’t lost a step. Vocally, her range has expanded, in both senses of the word: she has the voice of a survivor, indomitable, confident, despite a few dents probably too deep to ever be completely smoothed out. There’s solace in that voice, but there’s also a bon vivant who refuses to miss out on anything good. The night’s best song, a new number, reflected exactly that. Building on a dark, steady, deliberate descending progression to a passionate crescendo, Jackson sang of letting it all go, defiantly refusing to accede to despair.

Another number had something of a sassy 60s Nancy Sinatra jazz-pop feel. The effortlessly sultry, 6/8 Whispering Words, a sprightly song perhaps titled Spring (as in “maybe love will come again in Spring”), and a particularly haunting breakup song, The Beauty in the Emptying – all new – kept the audience rapt. Nobody said a word, even when the guitars were constantly being retuned (the hundred-degree, humid night outside had a lot to do with that). Which pretty much sums up the show. You would be crazy to miss her the next time she plays here.

July 21, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 11/18/07

A triumphant homecoming of sorts. Jenifer Jackson was an East Village denizen and made a name for herself here before relocating to Austin this past spring. It was obviously the right move. She’s never looked more at ease onstage or sung better than she did tonight. Like Erica Smith and Rachelle Garniez, Jackson is another one of those multistylistic songwriting machines, someone who can appropriate literally any style of music and make it work, with fluency, poise and passion. Likewise, Jackson has been known to tweak her vocal style from time to time. On her earlier material, she sang with a gentle, tender delivery, then she went through a brief but spectacularly successful phase as a big belter. Tonight it was obvious that she’s gotten more in touch with her lower register, giving her vocals a new warmth and confidence. It suits her well.

When her latest cd The Outskirts of a Giant Town came out last spring, we said it was the best album to come out so far in 2007 and that claim still looks to be valid. Playing a sparse, trio show backed by Roland Satterwhite, who played layers of ambience on violin, and Elysian Fields axeman Oren Bloedow, whose virtuosic, jazzy guitar was spot-on all night, she mixed tracks from the new cd along with a couple of brand-new gems and some older material. On the 70s soul-inflected Power of Love, Bloedow grinned as he went into generic Wes Montgomery mode, playing a solo made up solely of octaves. Was there room on the fretboard for the last note of the verse? Yes! Moments like these are typical at Jenifer Jackson shows.

One of the best things about small-group performances like this is that the songs get stripped down to just the moving parts, which can be fascinating to watch. The title track to Jackson’s new album actually turned out to be built on a totally generic indie rock progression that pretty much anybody can learn how to play in a few minutes’ time. Yet Jackson pulled it off with her airy, jazzy vocal melody, combined with Bloedow’s artful passing tones. I Want to Start Something, with its stratospherically high vocal melody – which Jackson absolutely nailed – was particularly captivating, all impatience and longing for something secure. Their absolutely gorgeous, minor-key, bluegrass-inflected take of Dreamland, arguably the best cut on the new cd, got a welcome boost of energy. Of the new songs, the best new one was a jazz-pop number called Words, seemingly about miscommunication. Jackson’s songs, and especially her lyrics, are remarkably terse and crystallized, so it’s understandable how not being able to precisely express something would really bother her.

They encored with an audience request from her second album, Mercury the Sun and Moon, a tune Jackson wrote back in the 90s while still in her teens. Stripped down to its eerie tango roots, this version saw Bloedow playing a bassline on the guitar with his thumb as he did on several of the other songs. The crowd wanted more, but Jackson hadn’t rehearsed anything else with these longtime cohorts of hers. Always leave the audience wanting more, the saying goes. Tonight Jackson and her band did just that.

November 20, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment