An NYC performance on Jan. 31 was a homecoming for vocalist Chrisette Michele in more ways than one. The Long Island native not only played to a packed house on the first of a two-night engagement at the Blue Note, but she also returned to her roots in terms of repertoire.
Michele and her band began with “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” and she maintained both intensity and control throughout the song, all the while injecting her signature trills into each “doo-ah.” Her deft, inspired scatting seemed to surprise the audience and even her rhythm section. The program continued with the Rodgers & Hart standard “Isn’t It Romantic,” and although a slower tempo might have better suited her signature “ohhhs,” the arrangement’s inclusion of flute effectively softened the overall feel.
Pianist Robert Glasper, whose singular sound melds jazz, hip-hop and R&B, accompanied Michele on perhaps the most intense number of the night, “Angel Eyes.” In that standard, a tale of heartache and despair over lost love, the pair found new possibilities. Michele delivered at a whisper, evoking Chet Baker, while Glasper remained entranced, keeping a steady left hand while his right fleshed out the melody line.
In all, the set surveyed Michele’s influences-from Ella and big band to gospel and Broadway-in a way that yielded discoveries. “You don’t have to be stuck in a box,” she said at one point, and her performance made you believe her.
Michele and Glasper will appear at the Highline Ballroom in NYC on Feb. 28 to celebrate the release of Glasper’s new album, Black Radio.