By Michael Katz
With its dark stained paneling and sepia tones, the Culver Room at the Radisson Hotel has the comfy feel of a 60’s era Chicago steakhouse. Vocalist Jackie Ryan, with her warm sound and expressive readings, was a perfect choice, as the venue in Culver City continues to fill the void created by the closing (for now) of the Jazz Bakery.
Ryan, backed ably by the Josh Nelson Trio, swung with a collection of standards and not-so-standard tunes by composers such as Benny Carter, Oscar Brown Jr. and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Performing before a packed house for Friday’s one-night stand, she started her set with a bright bebop number, Carter’s “Doozy,” (the title of her forthcoming double CD (scheduled for release on August 18). Ryan’s voice has a rich timbre, falling somewhere between alto and tenor. Her readings can seem almost conversational at first, particularly on ballads such as “You’ll See,” by Carroll Coates and “I Haven’t Got Anything Better To Do.” She conveys a feeling of sitting next to you at a small table, establishing a connection in the opening stanzas (“I think about him on alternate Thursdays/When I haven’t got anything better to do”). Then, augmented by the Nelson trio’s accompaniment, she moves the tunes from the conversational to the lyrical, keeping the audience entranced.
Ryan varied the pace with “Something Happens To Me,” extending her range when she belted out the chorus, which had the crowd clapping along, and continuing with the Dorothy Fields/Jimmy McHugh standard, “I Must Have That Man.” With her fine command of Portuguese, Ryan has a particular affinity for Brazilian tunes, and she offered medley of Jobim’s “Brigas Nunca Mais” and “A Felicidade,” in particular conveying the underlying sadness of the latter tune. Her rendering of “Carminhos Cruzados,” a lesser heard Jobim composition loosely translated as “Crossroads,” was beautifully done, the song demonstrative of the rich legacy Jobim left us.
The Josh Nelson Trio, with Carlitos Del Puerto on bass and Dean Koba on drums, did a terrific job backing up Ryan. They performed a couple of spirited trio tunes, Blue Mitchell’s Caribbean-tinged “Fungi Mama” to open up the second set, and a breakneck version of Kenny Barron’s “Voyage” to start the third. During that final set they found a little more room to augment Ryan’s vocals, with Nelson and Del Puerto contributing solos to the Oscar Brown Jr/Bobby Timmons classic “Dat Dere”, and a lovely piano solo on “Carminhos Cruzados.”
Throughout, Jackie Ryan maintained an intimate connection with the audience, whether with the introspective “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”, where she moved seamlessly into the higher octaves of her range, or a spirited version of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” She closed the evening in emphatic style with the Bernstein/Comden/Green standard from On The Town, “Some Other Time.” Hopefully she will return to LA for a longer engagement in the near future.