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JAZZ REVIEW : Janis Siegel Illumines At My Place

June 23, 1989|LEONARD FEATHER

Janis Siegel has not transferred out of Manhattan. She has simply found a productive way to spend her spare time, teamed with the protean pianist Fred Hersch. To follow up their just released album, they took a two-night At My Place gig, with results that indicate a promising future for the partnership.

Siegel does not want to be identified as a jazz singer, and rightly so, since her first show Tuesday drew from many sources. On certain tunes such as Todd Rundgren's "Pretending to Care" and the old Miriam Makeba hit "Love Tastes Like Strawberries," her voice had a folksy charm, as if she were playing Patti with Hersch as a pianistic counterpart of Tuck.

What Siegel avoids is as significant as what she includes: Unlike several newly popular singers, she eschews mannerisms, using melisma very little, scatting only occasionally, and showing respect for the melodies.

Her pure sound and easy range were sensitively backed by Hersch, and on some numbers also by the superlative bassist Tony Dumas. Her mood swings were a joy as she made a quantum leap from a trivial old ditty, "Rhythm in My Nursery Rhymes," to a Brazilian setting in Djavan's "Agua."

For the jazz-oriented there was a fine old Bobby Troup ballad, "The Meaning of the Blues," along with two actual blues, the vocalese "Jackie" (an old Annie Ross-Wardell Gray fable about a be-bop mouse) and Helen Humes' "Million-Dollar Secret." The latter was the only song that seemed lyrically unsuited to her. Siegel drew on the repertoire of Take 6 for the swinging "Goldmine," and of Brenda Russell for a poignant "Piano in the Dark."

Song for song, artist for artist, this most musical hour by three major talents was an utter delight--the kind of performance music industry moguls classify as too good to be commercial. They have already been proven wrong; the Siegel-Hersch album is selling far beyond the record company's expectations.

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