Earlier today, I listened to René Marie's new album Sound of Red in anticipation of tonight's concert at the University of Chicago's Logan Center. Last year, Marie was scheduled to appear at the Logan Center, but had to cancel. Other than remembering her name from last year's schedule, I was unfamiliar with her. After listening to the new album, I knew I was in for a treat, and I was.
Marie brought a trio comprised of John Chin (piano), Elias Bailey (bass), and Quentin Baxter (drums) with her. When she walked out on stage, only Bailey and accompanied her. Interesting. She began her performance with Turn the Page, an old Bob Seger tune. A jazz singer doing Bob Seger? Well she did it; making it her own; rendering it as a blues tune, with more than a bit of gospel. Bailey's effort provided the bottom to support Marie's soaring voice, allowing her to dance above the distinct notes.
When the song came to an end, the two other members of the trio joined Marie and Bailey on stage. At that point, Marie gave the audience a choice: She could perform her new album in its entirety, or she could dip into her back catalog, adding a couple of songs from her latest effort. The audience was equally divided, so she decided to mix things up.
During the journey, the audience was treated to another pop standard, the Temptations' Just My Imagination. Well she didn't go wrong there, starting out quietly scatting the melody line. It is such a great song, which is why so many have covered it over the last four decades.
Apparently Marie is a fan of Italy if Certaldo, from her new album, is any indication. I haven't been to the Tuscan town of Certaldo, but after this self-penned song, I certainly could envision the Tuscan hills, particularly following a recent road trip through parts of Tuscany. "Don't you want to have one more glass of wine?" she sang, and so I did.
Many of the songs that Marie selected were self-penned, including Lost, Black Lace Freudian Slip, Stronger Than You Think You Are, the Joy of Jazz (co-authored with Etienne Charles) and Blessings, a song that sounded similar to Bob Dylan's Forever Young. Many of these songs could easily be added to the American Songbook.
I loved the word play of Black Lace Freudian Slip. During Blessings, Marie played the audience, with sections of the audience assigned different parts, as Marie conducted. It was at that point that Evelyn jabbed me the ribs: Her signal that I should not participate.
Throughout the evening, Marie gave each member of the trio the opportunity to solo, as well as to interact with each other during a number of duets. These weren't flashy musicians, but they were top-notch. To her credit, unlike the self-centered Esperanza Spalding (at least the night I saw her a few years back with sophomoric stage props), Marie went out of her way to introduce the musicians, and during the final song of the evening, literally sing their praises. Apparently she makes the words up on the spot, because bassist Bailey cracked up when she referred to him.
Marie established and maintained a warm rapport with the audience, many of whom had been waiting a year for Marie to make up the concert she was forced to cancel. There were lots of shouts and comments coming from the audience, with Marie welcoming each one.
Next time she is in town, I will be in the audience. And the good news: Much of her recorded work is available through Tidal, the CD-quality streaming service. I've been listening to and greatly enjoying her work since the concert.
In Sync (John Chin on Piano)
In Sync (Elias Bailey on Bass)
A Knowing Glance
Elias Bailey on Bass
In the Moment
The Singer "Exposes" the Photographer
Elias Bailey (bass) and John Chin (piano) in Duet
Quentin Baxter on Drums
Shooting Stars Accompany the Notes
Playing to the Right Side of the House
In a Silent Way
René Marie and the Experiment in Truth Trio Take a Well-Deserved Bow
Kudos to the Sound Engineer