Janis Siegel and Mattias Nilsson Perfecting the Art of the Duo in Cologne

When Janis Siegel sang “…and the stars forget to shine…” from Johnny Mercer’s “Midnight Sun” last night at King Georg in Cologne, you could hear and feel her immense experience, sovereignty and vocal precision in just those few words. But more than that, she conveyed a passion and a longing which has become a pretty rare commodity these days. Janis was on the last leg of her tour with pianist Mattias Nilsson who accompanied her for this “art of the duo” concert (they will play Copenhagen’s Jazzhus Montmartre tonight with David Andersson (b) and Jonas Holgersson (dr)). And Mattias came up with just the right amount of restraint and lesser notes on the ballads, and a flurry of notes on the swing and blues numbers. I was positively surprised about the songs he chose for his solo parts of the show: the all-too-seldom heard “Twilight World” by legendary pianist and composer Marian McPartland was handled in a masterful and exquisite way which made it all the more easier to imagine attending a proper solo piano show by this fascinating pianist (there is a beautiful version of “Twilight World” on Marian’s 2003 album “Silent Pool” with strings arranged by Alan Broadbent).

Janis Siegel Mattias Nilsson Cologne
Janis Siegel and Mattias Nilsson last night at King Georg, Cologne.

And then he chose “Live For Life”, another heartbreakingly beautiful tune, composed by Francis Lai which has English lyrics by Norman Gimbel. Both Abbey Lincoln (“The World Is Falling Down”, 1990) and Karrin Allyson (“Collage”, 1996) recorded the song, among many others of course. But these two versions clearly stand out. But anyway, Mattias was able to transport the beautiful, truthful lyrics of the song into the overly attentive audience (there is this pivotal line in the song which says “the here and now is all that we possess”). It was really one of many inimitable moments during the show. And then of course, there were the vocalise parts which Janis has skillfully perfected during her decades with The Manhattan Transfer. The way she phrased the parts during Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring” was simply astounding. And I really enjoyed the fact that she has become a little more raspy in the lower register, where she sometimes actually sounded like Ella Fitzgerald. Within a second, she can soar to the highest highs in a flawless and exceptionally tight way. Amazing.

Elsewhere during these highly entertaining sets, it was a thrill to witness the rapport between both Janis and Mattias and also between the musicians on stage and the audience. There was a joyful and upbeat “Tulip Or Turnip”, a magnificent and very appealing “Lucky To Be Me”, and a playful and almost hilariously creative “So Danco Samba”. And both Janis and Mattias showed their scintillating prowess again on the evening’s closing number “For All We Know” exuding a warm vulnerability and charm. Now we need them both entering a recording studio. And thank you Miriam, Birgitta, Stephan and Marcus for the ride.

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