DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER / “Love For Sale”
Jazz is a music of improvisation, a music of feeling deeply rooted in me. I chose to convey this music “live” to try to capture the excitement of the moment. It’s not perfect “mais ca fonctionne bien.” It’s the real thing, no “Artificial sweetners” and what fun we had making it happen! Hope you enjoy our offering. A smile and a kiss awaits you inside. —Dee Dee Bridgewater, from the liner notes of Live In ParisAt it’s best, jazz is like that. Always in the moment of its making. Not going back and doing it again or cleaning it up or making it perfect. No. Instead, jazz is in the moment of life. Can we create in real time? Not perfect for all time, but as close to perfect as we can be at the moment. And maybe not even perfect then. But real. True to everything we are. Whatever we are. At the moment. Can we organize our sound making to express ourselves? Jazz. The essence of this music is instantaneous, spontaneous expression. So, here we present Dee Dee Bridgewater dropping it live. One from a club recording, one from a festival presentation. Two different kinds of venues. Yoshi is a Bay Area, California venue offering the intimacy and immediacy of direct contact with the audience. A lot of playing around, literally. The proceedings tend not only toward improvisation but also to straight up having fun. Clowning in the most profound sense of the word. The more formal festival concert rises and falls somewhere between the seriousness of a concert hall and the casualness of the night club, plus it also requires a theatrical element, presenting itself to thousands of people at a time in cavenerous arenas, stadiums and halls. The musicians are playing for people they can only dimly see, if they can see the entire audience at all. The thing about Dee Dee Bridgewater is that she is comfortable in each of these venues and has mastered how to best negotiate the vagaries and intricacies of the various formats. Early in her career, Dee Dee won a Tony for her performance in the Broadway show The Wiz. Clearly, she understands drama. So let us experience an emotional journey. 1. “Midnight Sun” This is a magical ballad co-written by Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The summer after six grade, I literally learned to type as the teacher played “Midnight Sun” and other music to help us develop as typists. The song is embedded in my fingerprints. “Midnight Sun” with all its long tones and wide intervals is a challenge for singers who have limited range or who lack excellent breath control. Dee Dee embraces the melody and makes it sound as simple as breathing clean air after a spring rain. But, of course, this is about a winter setting. You can almost hear the frost in her voice, not as in chilly and detached but rather as warm breath condensing as it leaves her lips in little, attractive clouds of sound. Wispy. Beautiful as a trembling, tender kiss. Listen to how the band is right there with her, form-fitting and smooth as a black satin chemise. Thomas Brameri’s bass tones are deeply voiced. Pianist Thierry Eliez frames out a quietly dramatic arrangement full of block chords. And deft percussionist Ali Jackson plays his brushes against drumskin as though he were a conductor working with fifty strings. Listen closely, the collective rhythm is strong as a slow river current, even though the rubato flow is also unhurried. Their collective reading is absolutely masterful, perfectly matching Dee Dee’s intensely intimate, sotto-voce articulations. 2. “Love For Sale” A dozen minutes of naughty but nice messing around. Everyone with a working libido can relate to the clean-cut salaciousness of this sexy workout. It’s a great touch to incorporate Herbie Hancock’s famous Headhunters riff into the arrangement. Sexy patter is the clichéd shtick of nightclub routines. Dee Dee’s descent into melodrama rises above not on the basis of raunch but rather on the basis of swinging musical subtlety. The band never drops a beat and Dee Dee keeps the monologue interesting because of her in-tune, melodic vocal acrobatics. 3. “Cottontail” Ben Webster and Duke Ellington’s famous, exuberant flag-waver (Ellington took a distinctive Webster riff and compositional expanded it) here is used as a vehicle for Dee Dee’s scat singing and drummer Jackson’s astounding solo; ah, so many ways to use brushes as a percussion instrument. Dee Dee employs “Cottontail” as the set closer and it is appropriately rousing, leaving the audience clapping, hollering, whistling and shouting. 4. “Avec Le Temps” This is from a 2005 festival DVD, Dee Dee Bridgewater Live in Antibes. "Avec Le Temps" is a dark end of the street ballad, noir-ish, full of deep shadows, highlighted by harsh tones almost spat out at critical moments in the recital. Heavy percussion on the bottom, haunting accordion snaking around and atop Dee Dee’s desperate voicings. This is not introspective reminiscence; rather one's back is to the wall, the teeth are clenched, determined not to cry, determined to survive. In time. It’s almost scary. No doubt this is one of those concert moments when you watch with your eyes closed. 5. “La Vie En Rose” Starting off with African drums and extending for over 18-minutes this is a piece-de-resistance, a truly grand finale. When I first heard it, I could not imagine how Dee Dee was going to segue into the “La Vie En Rose” with which I was familiar but she pulls it off with aplomb. Again, I must make mention of the quality of the arrangement and of the band. And that out chorus with the double hand clap, what a brilliant denouement bringing together both percussion and melody. What a blessing to be able to experience the sounds and sights of this concert. There have been great performers (earthy icons such as the incomparable Josephine Baker and the sultry Earth Kitt come immediately to mind) and there have been great chanteuses (we all have our own list of favorite female vocalists) but what Dee Dee has is the rare ability to gracefully traverse both territories. Like that Latin word “alter,” which means both high and deep, Dee Dee Bridgewater can go all the way, either way. She’s high. She’s deep. She’s Dee Dee. —Kalamu ya Salaam
Sounds like an exercise After hearing these live Dee Dee Bridgewater tunes, I'm relieved. I'm relieved because I don't like any of them. I was starting to think I'd lost my ability to be discerning. Last week, Kalamu posted a lot of Dee Dee's music and subsequently sent me even more. I liked all of it. Also, last week, I actually forgot to comment about the tunes from Dee Dee's 1974 Afro Blue album. "People Make The World Go Round" is one of my favorite songs. I liked what Dee Dee did with it, taking it at a different tempo, giving the song a very different feel. The title track, "Afro Blue," was exceptional too. But when I heard Dee Dee's other version of "Afro Blue" from her new Red Earth album (it was one of last week's feature songs), I forgot all about the version of the same song that she'd done more than thirty years earlier. Anyhow, this week's live cuts just aren't to my taste at all. The five minute scatting excursions; the playful sex-talk thing at the beginning of "Love For Sale"; the over-pronounced, almost guttural-sounding French. (Is it just me, or does the intro to "Love For Sale" make you feel like you're overhearing your mother while she's talking dirty to a guy? Yuck.) I'm not trying to claim that there's anything wrong with Dee Dee's live act - in fact, Beth walked through earlier while I was listening to "Cottontail" and she said she liked it a lot. But it just ain't my thing. I don't like music that sounds like an exercise. Even an exercise - as is the case here - that I have to respect for its level of difficulty. When I hear something like "Love For Sale," I want to feel like I'm actually being put in the mood of that music. Not like I'm kidding around about the mood that the music is supposed to represent. BUT. Red Earth. Afro Blue. J'ai Deux Amours. I'm feeling all of those Dee Dee Bridgewater albums. Plus, now that we've heard Dee Dee as an album artist and Dee Dee as a live artist, check out this week's Cover writeup for a taste of Dee Dee as a session singer and sample source. Whether I happen to personally enjoy these live cuts or not, I do know that Ms. Bridgewater is the real deal. —Mtume ya Salaam
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