What exactly constitutes a “jazz singer”? If it’s improvisation and scat singing, then Billie Holiday doesn’t even qualify. Is it in the song selection? Norah Jones writes her own stuff, and Peggy Lee went from Benny Goodman to “Fever” within a decade. So, what does it take?
Well, whatever it is, Kathleen Grace has it, as she took material ranging from standards to Brazil to modern folk and used jazz as a verb to turn each song into a personal interpretation and delivery. Along with guitarist extraordinaire Anthony Wilson (who accompanies everyone from Krall to Peyroux), Grace used her flexible and yet penetrating voice to stretch through lyrics and wordless vocals o material such as the lazy and relaxed “Azalea” and the ominously phrased “Angel Eyes.” On material such as this, and even modern more modern tunes like Harry Nilsson’s “The Moonbeam,” Grace lets her voice vary between long and luscious legato lines and clipped consonants, making each word in the song appear poignant and significant. Guest guitarist David Steele came on to help create a dramatic yet subdued “I’m On Fire” with Grace drawing you into the words while the two guitarists enticed you with their inviting chords and strums, while an ethereal reading of Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Back Home” melded a heavenly pleading voice with bluesy folk strings. While Steele stepped off, Brazilian vocalist Tatania Parra climbed up stage for an enticing duet with Grace on the playful “Trieste” where the two ladies when back and forth like a ping pong tournament. Closing with a bone marrow deep and visceral “Jealous Guy” , Ms. Grace stayed true to her name, as Kathleen means “Pure” and Grace means “Unmerited Favor.” Combining those two qualities as a singer, and you get the treat that you heard this lovely Wednesday night in Little Tokyo.
She’s got a new release coming out in the fall, and if any of this material is going to be on it, make sure you devour it quickly!