Early Bird

Thrush attempts again to show everything old is new again

Madeline Peyroux
Le Jazz au Bar
September 22

Dreamland, Madeline Peyroux's promising debut, came out in 1996. Yet despite its so-called vintage material—Billie Holiday meets honky-tonk blues with a dash of Edith Piaf heartbreak—Peyroux was ahead of her time. Taking advantage of the serendipitous atmosphere fostered by the Norah Jones Phenomenon, Rounder Records signed Peyroux and just released her follow-up, Careless Love. It's a spare, subdued, and more focused effort that finds Peyroux's voice more mature and less like a zeppelin hovering over jaunty, sassy arrangements.

Last Wednesday, Peyroux appeared under the crystal chandelier at Au Bar a half-hour late, timid, birdlike, and winged in a drapey shirt over swooshy pants. With very little stage banter and a fair amount of self-consciousness, Peyroux slung her battered Martin over her shoulder and pulled faithfully from the new album. After a heartrending "I'll Look Around," she remarked, "That's an old one, and so it stays with you for a while."

In an hour-and-15-minute set, her clear voice, graceful second-fiddle guitar strumming, and skillful trio hardly strayed from mid-tempo swing, shuffle, and ballads—save for their closer, a jazzy ode to New York, "Spreadin' Rhythm Around," in which Hammond B-3 whirled and pulsed. Maybe it was too early: With melancholic loneliness pervading every carefully considered cover (most hauntingly Elliott Smith's "Between the Bars"), Peyroux is made for wee small hours.

"It was a real treat being able to sing for you," she told us. "It's really a simple thing." But though it's one thing to busk on street corners for passersby for years, it's quite another to sing for paying midtown customers for six nights. And there's nothing simple about returning eight years later to a landscape awash in would-be Billie. So cover Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen again, write more songs with Jesse Harris (what ingenue songstress doesn't he know?), Ms. Peyroux. This is your Second Chance. CARRIE HAVRANEK


Four Four Four
Boldface names meet no-names on island across East River

Williamsburg Jazz Festival
Various venues
September 16 through 19

Spanning four clubs, four nights, and four city blocks, the Williamsburg Jazz Festival kept its radius tight and its overhead low. Banners festooned the sides of buildings. Local bands drew admiring crowds. Headliners, boldfaced in the program notes, seemed transported from afar—farther than a few stops on the L, anyway. The grassroots enterprise evoked the modest, civic-minded fests of America's less fashionable burgs.

Fittingly, some of the better offerings were relative obscurities. Bassist Chris Tarry showed up at Laila with a band of light heavyweights, including saxophonist Donny McCaslin and guitarist Pete McCann. At iO, soprano saxophonist Michael McGinnis fronted Between Green with an assertiveness that undercut his bookish mien. The Devil's Workshop Big Band forged a flexible compound of free improv and soundtrack rock. And bassist-educator Gerry Eastman showcased saxophonists Joe Ford and Roland Alexander in his hard-bop quintet.

Festival co-founder Jesse Selengut was a ubiquitous presence, most visibly as leader and trumpeter of a fusion sextet called Noir. Their frenetic Galapagos set preceded saxophonist Chris Potter, who debuted a gritty new electric band. Strat-wielding Wayne Krantz and Fender Rhodester Craig Taborn met Potter's tenor brawn with sly circumventions and well-timed collisions. The only downside was that they played almost concurrently with Nellie McKay, the festival's youngest, brightest star.

McKay dressed the part, approaching a Yamaha keyboard at Laila in heels, cocktail dress, and elaborate coiffure. She began with "Teresa," an arch appreciation of the plausible first lady. But McKay was far more pensive than pugnacious, saying little and singing with numb precision. Alluding early to a lapse in medication, she eventually offered another reason for her melancholy by performing a simple, poignant, achingly sincere elegy to a recently deceased friend.

The festival's fulcrum was in its name, which was devoid of a title sponsor. It wasn't defined by the celebrity cameos of pianist Eric Reed, trumpeter Ray Vega, and ethereal siren Joy Askew, but by its environment—and the alternative it provided to splashier diversions across the river. Switching venues on Thursday, I paused at the Williamsburg Café, a festival-unaffiliated restaurant that had nonetheless booked singer Sue Giles. Halfway through "Love for Sale," Giles forgot the lyrics and offered her microphone to a curbside pedestrian, Harry Connick sideman Jerry Weldon. The saxophonist gamely sang half a chorus before climbing into a car, Manhattan-bound. NATE CHINEN

 
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