Music Review: Emilie-Claire Barlow Winter Wonderland Release Party
Hi folks! This is totally not about makeup, but even a hard-core product junkie has to wax poetic about things other than eyeshadow sometimes. So today, it's all about the most terrific concert I went to last night. I really hope I don't sound like the world's biggest & most pretentious tool writing about this, but I fear I will. Please humour me.
As you may know, I am a huge huge huge fan of Emilie-Claire Barlow, and last night, I had the pleasure of attending her Christmas concert / CD release party at Toronto's Old Mill Inn. The beautifully decorated dining room and stage set a theatrical backdrop for the show, and Ms. Barlow looked like she stepped right out of a Holt Renfrew window in her elegant red gown. The ambience was great, although the added percussion coming from the waitstaff clanging and clashing about was probably unnecessary (those poor guys were run off their feet trying to manage a very full house). But it's all part of the show... I mean, clinking ice cubes during "Little Jack Frost"... it's thematically appropriate! Festive, even!
But let's get to the music. Though her recent Christmas release is scrumptiliciously excellent, it cannot compare to seeing this talented singer live. From the jolly rolling "Sleigh Ride" to the flirtatious "Santa Baby" and the quietly sublime "Christmas Time Is Here", Barlow captured the best of the holiday spirit during her 2 sets. Her rendition of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" was a highlight... soulful, sexy, and uncontrived, one would have to have a heart of stone to say no to her wistful plea. Her technical chops cannot be denied either... a pitch-perfect interpretation of Judy Tate's "Angel's Lullaby" (can you count the key changes?) and her repartee with the tenor sax during the title track "Winter Wonderland" showed that she's got substance and style.
Some of you may be familiar with Barlow & Marc Jordan's duet, "Baby it's Cold Outside", which was released as a single last Christmas. Our sold-out crowd saw a super special appearance by Jordan, who was a bit of a surprise for me. I'd never seen him live before, but on the track, his voice is subdued and smokey, like the nap of velvet rubbed the wrong way. On stage though, he had a more edgy, raspy tone. It was well suited to the playful mood of the song, which included one of the most entertaining moments of the night as the two singers started dancing during the instrumental solos.
Oh, the instruments! Barlow's band is always top notch, but tonight, they were phenomenal. Nancy Walker on piano was especially on fire, and Kelly Jefferson's inventive tenor solo on Bob Dorough's dizzyingly fast "I've Got Just About Everything I Need" tumbled about, almost careening away from the rest of the band, only to be pulled back into synchrony as you held on for dear life. This is how live jazz should be! Also amazing were Reg Schwager on guitar, Kieran Overs on bass, and Mark Kelso on drums... you can hear their fine work on the Winter Wonderland CD, and I really hope we get to hear even more of them on upcoming albums.
To cap off the evening, we got a preview of Barlow's potential future studio material. If last night's execution of "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Lady Be Good" is any indication, Barlow may be returning to the swinging style of her first 3 albums in future offerings. The former tune shows off her wonderful range, control and clarity (especially in the upper registers), as well as her soon-to-be-famous style of vocalese. The latter is an Ella Fitzgerald classic, and Ella herself would've been wowed by Barlow's free-flowing, racing, but seemingly-effortless scat solo. (It was actually a vocalese, but the words came out so fast and tight that it might as well be a scat. Except harder.)
Okay, so clearly, I enjoyed the show oh so very much. Don't worry if you missed out though, because JazzFM ("Canada's Premier Jazz Station!") recorded the whole shebazz, and will be broadcasting it on-air and online Dec. 23rd at 11 AM and Christmas Eve (at... um, some other time. I missed it.) Even if you already have her album (which I of course highly recommend... get a copy for everyone you like!), give the broadcast a listen. Barlow's live shows have an air of excitement and intimacy that even the best studio equipment cannot record, plus you get to hear her be all charming and personable with the audience. And she has a blog, so you know she's extra-cool. Goooooo ECB!
[EDIT: Oh lucky you, Toronto... not only can you hear her concert on the radio, you can see her live! For FREE! Barlow will be doing a bunch of in-store performances & signings at the Indigo bookstore on Bay & Bloor this week and the next, you can see a schedule of her appearances on her myspace page.]
Alrighty! Thanks for reading through my enthusiastic rave if you did... tomorrow will be back to your regularly scheduled blog programming. It'll be a good one too, promise!