Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
The full-length, sequined dress and massive, equally-sequined spiked heels Dee Dee Bridgewater wore as she stepped onto the stage at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was standard-issue Diva-wear; the fact that the dress was bright green (I mean, we’re talking St. Patrick’s Day green), with matching eyelashes that were big enough to cool down the audience if she’d batted her eyes fast enough, said that the Las Vegas resident had no problems laughing at herself. And she proved that intermittently during a 90-minute set that also proved she’s still one of the most awesome vocalists in the game.
“We have the same haircut,” she deadpanned to one of two male audience members she engaged in conversation during the show. It should be noted that I have more hair than Bridgewater, who has sported the Kojak look for some time now. Later on, during the conversation with the other man (who gave her a business card that read “Retired Hippie”, which broke Bridgewater up), she explained – with smiling chagrin – that she was looking for her next husband, and then detailed how she lost the first three. And after her super-sultry knock-out take on “Fine and Mellow”, Bridgewater demonstrated how multi-instrumentalist Craig Handy’s screaming solo effected her by lying down on the stage and wrapping her arms around Handy’s right leg.
“There’s a graceful way to get up,” she told us, still prone, “but in these platforms, I don’t know it!” She managed – barely.
The above vignettes make it seem like it was all fun and games, and Bridgewater certainly had as much fun as the rest of us. But on the flip side, we were dealing with someone who clearly loved the material she was working with, not to mention her genuine admiration for Billie Holiday, the iconic vocalist who embedded nearly every tune Bridgewater sang into the jazz canon. I’ll admit I haven’t heard Bridgewater’s tribute disc “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee,” but her powerful performance sure made me want to stuff it into my already-bulging iPod.
The opener, “Lady Sings the Blues,” was spurred on by the audience’s hearty greeting (“We haven’t even started and I feel the love,” she enthused), and she followed that with a passionate take on “Lover Man,” which Bridgewater introduced as “my ode to myself.” After nailing the pleading message of “Don’t Explain” to the wall of the Hall, Bridgewater told us emphatically, “I would want an explanation!” The expression she wore when she said that could have extracted a confession from a boulder. “Them There Eyes” swung like Spider-Man on Red Bull, and Bridgewater broadcast every aspect of Holiday’s lyrics on “Fine and Mellow”: The protagonist says her man is “the meanest cat that I’ve ever seen” and “He’ll make you do things that you know are wrong,” but Bridgewater’s delivery let us know that wasn’t totally a bad thing.
All this music was powered by Bridgewater’s heavyweight quartet: Pianist Edsel Gomez was the musical director, but while he had a few great solo moments of his own, he left the heavy lifting to the two killers on Stage Left. Craig Handy’s known more for living on the avant-garde side of jazz, but he was serving sizzling red-meat blues all evening, scorching us with tenor and soprano saxophones when he wasn’t bewitching us (and Bridgewater) with his soaring flute on “Don’t Explain.” It’s safe to say we all shared Bridgewater’s amazement at the talents of drummer Lewis Nash (“I don’t understand,” she blurted. “He’s like an octopus!”), who delivered a towering solo to close a bopping version of “A Foggy Day.” Kenny Davis’ bass held down the bottom perfectly, and he gave Bridgewater the only support she needed on “My Mother’s Son-in-Law.”
While Bridgewater told us, “I’m fortunate to be on stage with four musicians as talented as these,” it should be noted that she is an instrument all her own. Her scatting on “Foggy” and “Them There Eyes” was right on point, and her commitment to exploring every inch of every song was absolutely palpable. After giving the gospel treatment to “God Bless the Child,” she left us with an a cappella version of “Amazing Grace” that’s still soaring around the Hall. As I demonstrated earlier, it’s easy to get caught up in Bridgewater’s stage act, which inspired one audience member to say, “You can tell she’s from Las Vegas!” But at the end of the day, Dee Dee Bridgewater has to be considered one of the best vocalists of her genre, and Billie Holiday couldn’t have wished for a better interpreter.
THE DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER QUINTET SET LIST
Lady Sings the Blues
Them There Eyes
Fine and Mellow
A Foggy Day
My Mother’s Son-in-Law
God Bless the Child