29 November 2006

Jazz + Swamp Blues + Rainbows = LaVon

Braving icy roads and bitter cold last night, I trekked to the newly remodeled Pantanges Theater to see Cuban singer Bobi Cespedes. This absolutely captivating performer (and Locumi priestess) had with her five very talented musicians, and the complexity of the Afro-Cuban-salsa-funk arrangements kept all of them busy -- the pianist doubled on trumpet, the guitarist on percussion, and all on vocals. The show was well worth the frigid and hazardous conditions.

Her engaging presence reminded me of another artist whose voice has been in my head. Jazz-blues singer LaVon Hardison lives in this area, and has become a sought-after performer and vocalist. She has contributed vocals to Afro-Cuban group Obrador, as well as string-swing band Hot Club Sandwich.

Now, finally, she has her own album out, and it shows off both her vocal abilities and her unique arrangements. "Ain’t Misbehavin'," "Coffee Song," and "I Can’t Give You Anything but Love" are fairly straight-ahead jazz standards, with elegant details by veteran pianist Joe Baque and bassist Steve Luceno.

But while rooted in jazz, the album’s defining characteristic is eclecticism. How else to describe an album whose offerings range from "Shop Around" to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"?

On the darker side are the creepy cover of Stevie Wonder’s "Superstition" with its swamp-blues sound and devilish fiddling by Barbara Metcalf (see video), and "It’s Alright With Me," which lays bare the late-night desperation of someone starved for love, or something like it.

If I had to choose, my favorites might be LaVon's original "The Owl and the Pussycat" and her cover of the sadly dysfunctional "Perhaps" (aka "Perhaps, Perhaps Perhaps") -- enhanced by the eerie musical saw of Russell Gores. A song which I have LaVon's permission to share with you.

[mp3] LaVon Hardison: "Perhaps"
from the album Choices (2006, self-released)
available at www.lavonhardison.com or CDbaby

More samples on LaVon's website (and you can hear four complete tunes from the album on her myspace). The CD release party is Dec. 12 in Olympia, if you're in the area (more info).

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