As one of the cradles of jazz, Kansas City has been home to dozens of renowned jazz vocalists.
By BILL BROWNLEE
Special to The Star
Singers still dominate the listings at area jazz clubs.
Deborah Brown is not among them.
While shes based in Kansas City, the majority of Browns bookings are overseas.
Her occasional appearances in Kansas City, consequently, are special events.
A near-capacity audience greeted Brown on Saturday at the Blue Room.
Im glad to be home, Brown said, noting that shed recently concluded a tour of Sweden.
During three masterful sets, Brown demonstrated that her artistic vision and musical assuredness are rivaled by very few vocalists in Kansas City or elsewhere.
Exuding a radiant sense of joy, Brown offered a shared sense of celebration. Her welcoming nature belies her imposing voice. A magisterial instrument, Browns voice dives, swoops and soars with astonishing clarity.
With a voice powerful enough to fill the venue without amplification, Brown used her microphone to add intriguing sonic embellishments. The rare technique is also employed by Marilyn Maye, another vocalist with a deep connection to Kansas City.
While Brown mimicked muted brass with childlike glee on Gee, Baby, Aint I Good To You, theres nothing base about her approach. The rhythmic complexity of her phrasing on material such as Centerpiece makes familiar songs seem fresh.
She invested Gershwins S Wonderful with inventive inflections and previously unimagined dynamics. While constantly compelling, Browns singing is intellectually rigorous and endlessly creative.
Performed by less competent artists, vocalese can seem like an insufferable novelty.
Browns flawless flow of syllables as she scats, however, isnt the least bit mannered.
Brown sang very few notes that sounded out of place or anything other than what she intended.
Yet Browns technical precision didnt come at the expense of emotional resonance.
Browns gorgeous rendition of Moodys Mood for Love was a transfixing statement of purpose, while an elegant version of A Hundred Dreams From Now was spellbinding.
Such rarefied heights were achieved with the sympathetic support of saxophonist Matt Otto, organist Everette DeVan and first-call drummer Mike Warren.
Since Ottos arrival in Kansas City in 2009, he has become a fixture on the areas jazz scene. While hes celebrated for his sense of adventurousness, Otto was cast against type in the role of a soulful tenor player Saturday.
Although Brown hadnt previously worked with this lineup, the band quickly picked up on her cues. Ive never done it before with a small group, Brown explained in her introduction to Silver Blues. So well see how it goes.
It went extraordinarily well. At the songs conclusion, Brown playfully raised her hands in triumph.
In another era, such delightful mastery would have been applauded by a vast audience. Yet only a couple dozen faithful fans were on hand when Browns third set concluded after midnight.
Brown had proven hours earlier that shes Kansas Citys premier jazz vocalist.
Centerpiece, Devil May Care, A Hundred Dreams From Now, East of the Sun (and West of the Moon), Silver Blues, Meditation, What Is This Thing Called Love?, My Favorite Things
Arrival, Just Friends (with Giacomo Gates), Whisper Not, Spring Fever, I Didnt Know What Time It Was, I Love Being Here With You, Gee, Baby, Aint I Good To You, Moodys Mood For Love, Thats All
Midnight Eyes, My Romance, S Wonderful, They Cant Take That Away From Me, Donna Lee