NY Cabaret Music Review by Alix Cohen
If Catherine Russell had been performing when the music for which she has a predilection was written, we’d likely still know her name. She might have been the chosen originator of songs by Fats Waller, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Leroy Lovet et al; worked basement clubs, traveled with big bands, been featured on radio or in black and white RKO films.
An old soul, Russell manifests the at-ti-tude of authors in their time with preternatural ease. Ferocious technique appears effortless. Her extraordinary instrument paired with singular interpretive gifts and deep engagement makes the vocalist unique among her peers. To say the lady “has it goin’ on” may hint at the fun you’ll have attending a live engagement, but it doesn’t touch on her uncanny gut and soul connection to the material.
Launching into a bright, bouncy “Everybody Loves My Baby” (Jack Palmer/Spencer Williams), Russell is playful and sure footed. The packed Iridium Jazz club vibrates. “You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb” (Will Livermash, Jack Hudgens, Mildred Brooks) she sings, eyebrows arched as if to question the position. …oh, ah, baby yeah… When this vocalist riffs it feels organic, like part of the verse, never filler.
“Bring It Back” (Harrison Nelson), the title song of her fifth CD, is pure suggestion. There ain’t nothin’ shakin’ when the dawn starts breakin’/with me over here and you over there…Russell’s moves are minimal but genuine, a little bounce, hip action, a shake of the head or shoulder. The tune could be burlesque, but the performance is classy, not inhibited-classy.
“After the Lights Go Down Low” (Leroy Lovett/Alan White) is honeyed, sung very much to someone despite closed eyes. Russell slowly rocks back and forth. Her voice goes out like a slow motion lasso, notes controlled, massaged, shaped. It’s spell-like. The dame could sell you a bridge. “You’ve Got the Right Key (But You’re Working on the Wrong Key Hole” (Clarence Williams) is as feisty as it gets. Reflecting the other side of seduction, the song’s Liza declares I got a new man who’s better than you/He starts his lovin’ when you get through. Russel sears the lyrics. In another era, the audience would be calling out “You tell’m, honey!” Neither of these, however, is as hot as “Aged and Mellow” (Johnny Otis/Preston Love) in which Russell gets to the heart of the matter with enough juice and sizzle to cook good southern barbecue.
“You Got to Swing and Sway” (Ida Cox) and “I’m Checkin’ Out, Goom-bye” (Billy Strayhorn/Duke Ellington) confirm the band’s skill with unadulterated jitterbug. A wonderfully fresh, seemingly off the beat arrangement of “Darktown Strutters Ball” (Shelton Brooks), evokes infectious high spirits and stylish moves – – Russell plays a mean tambourine and boy can she dance!
The excellent “Back O Town Blues” (Luis Russell/Louis Armstrong) is coaxed, squeezed, mined for every bit of pathos and edge. Sam Cooke’s “Put Me Down Easy,” in another terrific arrangement, makes one want to move. Piano, guitar and bass are so defined, it’s as if we’re listening to 4 voices lyrically moan. Apparently Sam’s brother LC Cooke has just released a CD recorded in 1964. Catherine recommends it.
“Quiet Whiskey” (Wynone Harris, Heny Glover, Robert Charles Schnell, Fred Weismantel), a signature number, begins with spoken word accompanied by delicate piano, spits into high gear, hip-slapping sass, and regales us with a cinematic tale of blame on the bottle. Now look at everybody, they’ve got real tight./Now they all want to start a fight./John never did nothing wrong in his life./But now he’s in a corner with the policeman’s wife. Russell’s resigned rebuke is pure and pithy.
The talented band swings, sashays, jives and goes down blue with top collaborative skills. Each musician is a pleasure to hear individually.
Catherine Russell is superb. Treat yourself.
The Catherine Russell Trio
Matt Munisteri-Musical Director/Guitar
August 16 2014
The Iridium 1650 Broadway http://theiridium.com/
Catherine’s Web Site http://www.catherinerussell.net/live/