02/22/14 By Ken V
Paula WEST, at Feinstein’s and the magic and power of song
New version of well know jazz club features vocal arts
When you live in an area of the world where great vocalists are performing, you have the opportunity to see an art that is as special as it is demanding. The vocal musician not only has to manage their own music, health, business affairs and over all career, but usually ends up being the band leader, music researcher and over all aesthetic manager. If this wasn’t enough, if there are no gigs, there is no business, so singers ultimately are responsible for dealing with often surly club owners or concert bookers.
All of which brings us to the new management of the former RRAZZ room, now owned and operated by the management of “Feinstein’s”, the entertainment company of Michael Feinstein. This club is strategically located right in the center of San Francisco, just off Union Square at the Nikko Hotel. The new management is dedicated to provide a superlative musical, culinary and beverage experience, and this long stand by West, may signify a new level of commitment to providing artists a full schedule to perform. Paula started this current appearance on February 13, and continues through March 9, with early week breaks. A number of shows have sold out.
We had seen Paula last year at SFJAZZ in the Joe Henderson Lab room, which has featured a number of vocalists. During her performance there, she seemed a bit unsteady, and had to leave the stage at one point. At this club, Paula walked to the stage with a beaming face and a sparkle to her eye. And the minute she opened her mouth, a clear, powerful voice was projected to every corner of the intimate room. It was obvious that West had transformed herself for this appearance. The very special aspect of Feinstein’s is not just the wonderful staff and service, but the marvelous intimacy of the room. Every seat is an up front and personal view of every single moment of the act to be seen.
Paula was accompanied by a super band of Adam Schulman on piano and arranging, old friend Ed Cherry on guitar, Barak Mori on bass and Greg Wyser-Pratte on drums. She opened with a marvelous jazz standard, “Invitation”, a winding song full of perfectly melding changes and a rising melody line. In this way, Paula was establishing her bona fides in the sometimes nebulous world that singers inhabit between pop, classics and jazz. Paula represents that world by picking through many parts of the repertoire. From, “Go Back where you stayed”, a song performed and written by the great cabaret performer Ethel Waters, to Cole Porter’s “I love Paris” to “Ten Cents and Dance” by Rogers and Hart, Paula establishes each tune as her own. But it is obvious that she spends a special effort representing many different styles and concepts in song. She loves Bob Dylan and knocks down, “I want you,” as a swing tune and closed with Lou Reed’s, “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” as a special tribute to the late Lou Reed.
This was Paula West’s night. The sold out crowd poured on the love, the band swung through the changes, and Paula ended with the same twinkle and warmth as she had started with. The night left everyone on a cloud of music and ideas about romance, magic and community. For it is in this City of love, where there is that special sense of community still around, that this is more than a concert. As the audience confirmed, Paula belongs right where she is, singing to everyone with a unique and very carefully crafted art. It was music and a performance to remember for a long time.
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