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Katie Bull: The Story, So Far

What happens when performance art slams into vocal jazz? Two words: Katie Bull. Though it is easy to detect myriad influences in Bull, extending from the cool minimalism of Helen Merrill and Chet Baker to the boplicious ingenuity of Jon Hendricks and the bold vibrancy of Sheila Jordan (one of Bull’s earliest mentors), attempting to categorize the native New Yorker, and leader of the city’s inter-arts movement, is rather like trying to get a few dozen wriggling snakes to lay orderly and still. If you want pretty ballads prettily sung, look elsewhere. But if you’re in the mood for envelope-pushing experimentation on a grand scale, dive into the 17 tracks that comprise this dazzling voyage into a beyond so beyond that even as intrepid a pioneer as Bobby McFerrin is left miles behind.

Opening with “Which?,” a thunderously asymmetrical dissection of a partner’s cunning changeability, she segues into the butter-soft, Sondheim-worthy lullaby “A Song for Hudson’s Heart,” then proceeds to insert sharp thorns among the velvety rose petals of “For All We Know” before multi-tracking herself into a wonderful, Dali-esque frenzy on “Twisted.” Her “Half Full” seems a lover’s pursuit interpreted as a looming barroom brawl, her “Next Generation Doodlin'” is a peanut butter-lined head trip and her “Go Ahead” suggests a bemused cynic’s spin on the old Mamas & the Papas anthem “Go Where You Wanna Go.” There’s more, including a kaleidoscopic, four-part “Dream Cycle” and an accompanying DVD of a quasi-medieval, costumed romp-cum-clownfest (billed as a “walking dance” through the streets of New York) shaped around Rodgers and Hart’s “Lover” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening,” but I think you get the brilliantly cacophonous picture.

Originally Published