Friday, March 28, 2008

Going West

If you read only the NY Times to figure out what to do this weekend, you'd miss the best show in town: Today, the paper of record doesn't list Paula West at Iridium in its roundup of music gigs, an omission that's egregious bordering on crazy.

Fortunately my own mag is on the case: "If a night of jazz entertainment were still up to the standards set by Ella, Billie and Sarah, then San Francisco–based Paula West would be the only (yes, only) contemporary vocalist worth the price of admission. Not only is her full-bodied contralto a thing of beauty, it’s connected to an emotive intellect that makes the American Songbook speak to the future rather than the past."

It may sound like hyperbole but I can assure you it's not. I saw Ms. West yesterday evening and had a huge happy grin plastered on my face the entire time. I'm not sure there's anybody else on the scene right now who could make me feel as if I was hearing warhorses such as "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and "Skylark" for the first time. And her set cannily mixes these familiar tunes with more obscure ones, as well as new arrangements of well-known songs (it took me a short while to recognize Dylan's "Don't Think Twice"). While West's dusky tone sounds positively dreamy on the slower numbers, I was most thrilled by the way she rode the beat with uncanny precision on the faster ones (she's backed by an ace quartet too). She's now joined my two favorites, Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O'Day, when it comes to jazz takes on the American Songbook. Yes, she's that good.

By the way, West's previous local engagements have been at the Algonquin's Oak Room, a place I like but which can get a bit chilly, not to mention pricey. Her natural warmth and performing style seem to fit better at Iridium. And for fans, the evening's bill is a lot lower than it would be at the Oak Room.

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