By Don Heckman
Medford, Oregon. The creative interaction between a jazz vocal artist and his/her accompanist is one of the most sensitive encounters in the entire musical world. All of which was on fascinating display Friday night in the performance of singer Sara Gazarek and pianist Josh Nelson at Medford’s Artistic Piano Gallery.
The talented young artists have already had a long musical relationship. And the far-reaching, irresistible musical quality of their performance called up memories of such classic jazz singer/accompanist connections as Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, Tony Bennett and Bill Evans.
But the Gazarek/Nelson duo made it clear – as they do in all their performances – that their linkage is founded upon interactive, musically exploratory adventures.
Start with the fact that Nelson is a superb arranger/pianist who founds his interpretive interaction upon the classical view of the piano as an orchestra in itself. Gazarek has her own arranging ideas, blending them with Nelson’s vision, adding her gripping story-telling qualities to the lyrics of every song she touches.
All of which resulted in a compelling performance within the Artistic Piano Gallery’s warm and intimate setting.
The Gazarek/Nelson program was a combination of evergreens from the Great American Songbook sprinkled with original songs by both artists. The first half of the program was enhanced by such classics as “Without A Song,” “No Moon At All,” along with Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and “Single Petal Of A Rose.” Add to that the Bonnie Raitt hit, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Joao Gilberto’s bossa nova tribute to a duck, “O Pato” and Nelson’s “Petit Papillon.” The set was topped off by a high velocity romp through “Sunny Side of the Street,” featuring a set of bebop variations sung and played in unison by voice and piano.
The second set was shorter, but no less engaging, featuring – among its many highlights – “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” and a group of songs covering various aspects of love. Among them: the original, “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” “Where Is Love?” and “Love You Madly.”
A performance with half those songs would be impressive for most vocal artists. But in the talented hands (and voice) of Nelson and Gazarek it offered an evening of the jazz vocal art at its best.
Call it a high point in this season’s Siskiyou Music Project, which continues from April 2 through May 27 with programs reaching from jazz (Ken Peplowski) to country music (Tim & Myles Thompson) and more. Click HERE for details about the rest of the Project’s programs.