By Don Heckman
Studio City CA. A loudly expressive full house crowd was waiting for singer Lauren White when she came on stage Saturday night at Vitello’s. Which was somewhat of a surprise, given White’s still emerging visibility as a jazz artist. But, although she hasn’t yet found the full audience her singing deserves, she has begun to receive considerable critical accolades. Veteran jazz critic Scott Yanow has described White as “poised to make a strong impact on the jazz world.”
That achievement may take a little while, but her performance at Vitello’s was filled with enough intriguing moments to underscore White’s impressive potential.
Her program was largely devoted to selections from her new album, Meant To Be. And the far reaching selections underscored the musical curiosity and eclectic interpretive range that are essential elements in White’s growing skills. Among the many highlights: Matt Dennis’ classic jazz ballad, “Angel Eyes”; Dave Frishberg and Alan Broadbent’s “Heart’s Desire”; Stephen Sondheim’s “Now You Know:’ Bernard Ighner’s Everything Must Change”; and Ivan Lins’ gorgeous “Meant To Be (“Saudades de Casa”), with English lyrics by Lani Hall.
That’s a remarkable collection of songs, by any definition, and there were that many more, equally remarkable. White has been described accurately as an adept practitioner in cabaret as well as jazz, with both skills amply present in the selections she chose for her virtually non-stop 90 minute program.
She was backed superbly by pianist Quinn Johnson, saxophonist/flutist Bob Sheppard, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Kevin Winard. The well-crafted arrangements by Johnson provided precisely the right settings, with brightly rhythmic swing on the faster tunes, and lush, impressionistic harmonies on ballads, enhanced by the soaring tones of Sheppard’s flute.
At her best, White made the most of her warm voice and embracing vibrato. Occasionally, she called up memories of the late Irene Kral. Although she is a few steps away from the memorable interpretive accomplishments of Kral, White approached each of her selections with a similarly determined effort to reach into the heart of a song.
Often, she succeeded admirably in finding the emotional center of that inner heart beat. Occasionally, especially in the more unfamiliar numbers, she appeared to be more focused on the beauty of her sound rather than the intimacy of the lyrics.
But she’s on her way. And when White’s musical story telling skill reaches its fullest level of expressiveness, she may well be positioned to fulfill Yanow’s description of her potential “impact on the jazz world.”
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Photos by Faith Frenz.