By Don Heckman
Los Angeles. Jackie Ryan made one of her far too rare Southland appearances on Saturday night. The program was a Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Musicians Institute featuring Ryan with the stellar backing of tenor saxophonist Rickey Woodard, pianist Tamir Hendelman, drummer Dean Koba and bassist Alex Frank.
That’s an impressive combination of talent, and the result was a stunning blend of vocal and instrumental jazz.
Ryan has always been a versatile, expressive singer, comfortable in several languages, an effective interpreter of bossa nova classics often in their original Portuguese. Add to that her strong sense of rhythmic swing and effective story-telling mastery.
Those qualities, and more, were all present in her dynamic Saturday night appearance. Additionally noticeable in her rendering of an appealing program of songs were Ryan’s engaging entertainment skills. Interacting humorously with her highly receptive audience, sharing the spotlight with Woodard and the other players, introducing songs with a narrative describing their background, she offered a complete package, energized by the rich jazz qualities that are at the center of her performance art.
Among the highlights of an evening filled with memorable moments: a group of warmly intimate Brazilian songs from Milton Nascimento and Antonio Carlos Jobim, highlighted by an especially touching version of Jobim’s “Louisa”; a passionate rendering of “I Love You Porgy,” prefaced by Ryan’s telling of the song’s meaning in the context of the opera Porgy and Bess; a briskly swinging “I Just Found Out About Love”; a laid-back “Sleeping Bee”; a soaring, blues-driven take on “Georgia,” featuring a scene-stealing solo from Woodard; and more.
Ryan was backed throughout by the sort of sturdy support that most singers dream of having, and often do not. Hendelman’s highly praised accompaniment for singers was present in every note he played; Koba and Frank laid down an irresistibly bouyant rhythmic flow; and Woodard’s playing, as noted above, provided the perfect, musically illuminating musical partnership.
The only thing missing in this otherwise superb musical evening was a second set. And when we left the theatre, the only remaining desire was the wish for Ryan to make more frequent trips south to gift L.A. with the many pleasures of her music.
* * * * * * * *
Photos by Faith Frenz.