Catherine Russell does Harlow’s
Music review by Gary Chew
Jazz and blues vocalist Catherine Russell came into my “sonic” view late. I’m so much the richer for that now-comfortable music connection with this native New Yorker. I know that, after scrutinizing her talent, I’m the poorer for not having heard this woman sooner. But Catherine, as they say, was a late bloomer, albeit has worked with names that have blinked on marquee lights, just like her father, Luis Russell, did. Luis Russell was Louis Armstrong’s music director in the mid-forties, and was a pianist, composer-arranger and big band leader.
Catherine sings at Harlow’s (2708 J St.) on Friday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m. Swell Productions and Capital Public Radio (my old stomping grounds) are making it all happen. There’s a rumor that 88.9’s Gary Vercelli will introduce Catherine.
Tickets? Right here: www.swell-productions.com.
Catherine’s voice is a unique mixture of what almost seem like contrasting qualities. It’s velvety and smoky, yet clean and clear — so confident with the music — and spot-on with intonation. I like that.
Catherine’s mother Carline Ray (a veteran jazz bassist and vocalist) brings it all together for Catherine with her father’s musical experiences early in the 20th century in New Orleans, Chicago and New York City. Luis Russell and Armstrong were almost the same age, born 1902 and 1901, respectively.
I was delighted to hear how Catherine and the ensembles that back her on two CDs (“Inside This Heart of Mine” and “Strictly Romancin’”) capture the essence of different kinds of great music that are so loved by so many.
American popular songs, like “I’m in The Mood For Love” and “As Long as I Live,” are given adroit, polished readings by Catherine. Listening to other tracks, her ensemble reminds me of greats from back in the day, like Django Reinhardt, Joe Venuti and a little of the more modern-sounding Art Van Damme. And did I hear something akin to Nat Cole’s incomparable and legendary trio?
Then there’s blues and swing — which Catherine’s father, in a big-band kind of way, was into early on. I noticed the jump, Dixieland and straight-ahead, as well as a bit of gospel she sings with her mother. On other tracks, spicy banjo playing springs from Catherine’s ensemble, which broadens Russell’s music concept even more — all of it pure American, naturally, delivered over the plate and in the pocket.
Whoa! She does nothing that’s not solid, and I think the lady could sing it all backwards and still cut it — with our loving it. I must ‘fess up, though, and say that Catherine does a Duke Ellington-Mack David song that I’d not heard: “Long, Strong and Consecutive.” It was just one of those things — I missed.
As I’ve said for a long time now, “There’s no time like the present.” Even if the blooming’s late.
When Russell gets to Harlow’s, I hope she’ll sing “All the Cats Join In” and Fats Waller’s “Inside This Heart of Mine.” I’ll be in the audience giving her act close attention.
Copyright © 2012 by Gary Chew. All Rights Reserved