The New Face of Jazz

Madeleine Peyroux

At UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Wednesday, October

Reviewed by Sarah Hammill

Madeline-Peyroux.jpgThere was something equally charming and
maddening about Madeleine Peyroux’s performance at Campbell Hall
last Wednesday night. Dressed in a flowing gray dress and flip
flops, with wavy hair hanging loose to her shoulders, Peyroux
looked more like a European hippie than a modern-day Billie
Holiday — the artist she is most often compared to. And, although
she’s been performing for more than 25 years, the increasingly
popular jazz singer moved about the stage as though she were
something of a novice, swaying awkwardly or simply standing before
the mike with her fists clenched at her side. And yet, the moment
the singer opened her mouth for a moody version of Anjani Thomas’s
“Blue Alert,” her formidable talent was unquestionable.

During the following hour and a half, Peyroux and her four-piece
band — including bassist Johannes Weidenmüller, keyboard player
Michael Kanan, drummer Scott Amendola, and cornetist Ron
Miles — covered a handful of classic tunes, including Harry
Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” and Leonard Cohen and Anjani
Thomas’s “Half the Perfect World.” Peyroux’s voice alternately
dipped and bowed, swept and soared, and more often than not she
carried the emotional weight of the songs well. Peyroux was clearly
at her best when invoking a certain melancholy — as in her haunting
“Once in a While” — or when singing lighthearted fare, as with the
swinging “A Little Bit” (during which we got our first genuine
smile of the night from her).

Perhaps these types of songs work best for Peyroux because they
seem to match her personality. When she ventured into darker
territory on Dusty Springfield’s breathtakingly beautiful “I Think
It’s Gonna Rain Today,” she seemed to be circling the depth of the
song without ever quite being able to penetrate it. And toward the
end of the night, I found myself closing my eyes while she sang.
Maybe it was the dissonance between what we have come to expect a
jazz singer of this caliber to look like and Peyroux’s younger,
less-seasoned vibe. Or maybe, merely in her mid thirties, Peyroux
is still coming to terms with the emotional spectrum she covers in
her songs.

With time, I imagine these problems will solve themselves;
either we’ll get used to seeing a waif-thin bohemian belting the
blues, or Peyroux will come into her own as a stronger emotional
presence. It may take a while for that to happen, but with pipes
like those, Peyroux’s got all the time in the world.


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