Alicia Olatuja with Ben Williams last night at the Yamaha Piano Salon.
While the city is now saying goodbye to all the conference and APAP folks, it is more or less getting down to normal for this week. But what is normal in New York? I have a week of exciting meetings and interviews and performances up ahead and last night, I went to the Yamaha Piano Salon on 54th and Broadway for the “Unlimited Myles” showcase. Alicia Olatuja, whose latest release I have reviewed on these pages, was first and it was clear from the start that she is like a natural performer with a stunning voice. Her instrument has a sweet and light touch to it and yet, can be exceptionally powerful with strength and guts where needed. And she didn’t over-expose her abilities which a lot of singers do these days. Her voice is like this little gem that you want to keep hold of.
Alicia’s set included a mix of self-written tunes with Latin and Soul touches and songs by Michael Jackson (a beautiful version of “Human Nature”) and Chaka Khan. Accompanying her were some of the best musicians around: Jon Cowherd on piano, Ben Williams on bass, Ulysses Owens on drums, and David Rosenthal on guitar.
Billy Childs at Yamaha Piano Salon on Moday night.
The second artist to showcase his new material was Billy Childs. I can not praise him enough for his originality and pure craftsmanship. He is playing around with Indian rhythms, he swings like there is no tomorrow and he ban be sensitive and svelte in the ballads. The multiple Grammy winner who has worked with Dianne Reeves, Freddie Hubbard, and Claudia Acuna, had an extremely tight and crisp rhythm section there: Hans Glawischnig on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums. And the equally fascinating Steve Wilson was featured on sax throughout. It was one of the most coherent and entertaining sets I’ve seen in a long while.
So what to do on a Monday night at around 8:30pm? Don’t think that Mondays are off days here. There were so many options, one of them going straight back home because the temperature had fallen to around 20 degrees, but I decided to go to the Village again to check out another singer: Marianne Solivan. What striked me here was her choice of material. Her intense and delicate voice, her deep dives into the lyrics were pretty tasty with an uncanny aesthetic. I think it is her enormous elasticity that makes her so outstanding. Helping her out were the one and only Gene Bertoncini on guitar and Matthew Parrish on bass. She teamed up several songs and included dearly loved, but seldom heard songs like “Moon And Sand” or “Slow Hot Wind”. Her version of Burt Bacharach‘s “Close To You” was magic and she even included an obscure Dave Frishberg tune. What a nice surprise. As was the fact that Lainie Cooke was sitting in the audience, too.