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Jazz Reviews : Shirley Horn At Vine St. Bar & Grill

May 12, 1987|LEONARD FEATHER

Is Shirley Horn a pianist who also sings? Or a vocalist who accompanies herself?

Actually, she's neither. Call her an accomplished musician who happens to be equally capable of expressing herself vocally or instrumentally.

Absent from these parts since the early 1960s, she arrived in town through the courtesy of the Vine St. Bar & Grill, where she will record an album live tonight and Wednesday. Listening to her break-in show Sunday, it seems hard to fathom why, during a 30-year career, she has remained largely unknown outside Washington, enjoying the praise of her peers while missing connections with the general public.

A self-possessed woman with a smoky vocal quality that is variously restrained and assertive, she can run a gamut of emotions, from subtle to sinewy, rising and falling dramatically in the course of a song such as Mickey Leonard's "Why Did I Choose You?"

Only once did she falter. "Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You," a great jazz standard, was too fast for her to squeeze in all the lyrics comfortably, even though her elastic phrasing enabled her on some songs to bunch a long string of words tightly together.

Her keyboard personality is impressively diversified, whether she is exploring an old standard like "Autumn Leaves" (one of her two opening instrumental numbers) or moving from elliptical single note lines to two-fisted chords during her beautifully sung and played treatment of Jobim's "Meditation." It is no surprise that Horn and Ahmad Jamal have a mutual admiration society, as do she and Oscar Peterson.

Backing her were Charles Abels, who has been her bassist for 18 years, and her drummer Steve Williams, a four-year partner. This splendidly unified trio is central to Horn's success.

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