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John Hebert: Rambling Confessions

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Sometimes a bandleader’s initial goals for a group take a completely different turn once the rest of the musicians come aboard. Bassist John Hébert-who has played in bands led by everyone from Fred Hersch to Lee Konitz to Andrew Hill to Mary Halvorson-was inspired by vocalist Carmen McRae and her approach to interpretation when forming his own quartet. When all was said and done, though, the perspective of the group went in a slightly different, and more compelling, direction.

The quartet includes pianist Andy Milne, drummer Billy Drummond and vocalist Jen Shyu. While all contribute to the performance strongly, the spotlight clearly falls on Shyu, who uses her voice like a fourth instrument without getting caught up in the bombastic or theatrical trappings that such a role can invite. She performs “September Song” and “Alfie,” the sole link to McRae, without schmaltz or sentimentality. The group rolls gently under her rubato delivery in the former and steps back in the latter, leaving her voice and Hébert’s bass as the focus. “Alfie” has rarely sounded this affecting.

Thinking outside the jazz box, Hébert’s other interpretation comes from indie-rock songwriter Chan Marshall, who records as Cat Power. “Fool” benefits from the bassist’s rich double-stops, while Shyu makes the unique lyrics unfold like an improvisational poem.

Hébert’s originals complete the set, going from ballad form on “Rodger’s Lodge” to the more questionable melody sources in “70’s and 80’s Remix.” But even then the group’s powerful moments of interaction reward close listening.

Originally Published