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Casual Andy Bey Shows Off Versatility on Piano, Vocals

November 05, 1998|Jazz Review DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Andy Bey has always been difficult to define. Soul singer, rhythm & blues musician, jazz artist--he has determinedly resisted category throughout his sometimes erratic career.

On Tuesday, in the opening set of a three-night run at the Jazz Bakery, Bey mixed his bebop-styled piano with lyrical vocals, a bit of scat singing and an amiable interaction with his audience. The results had the quality of a relaxed evening in his living room, listening as Bey casually moved from one tune to another.

He focused, for the most part, on standards: "If I Should Lose You," "Yesterday," "All the Things You Are," to name a few. In each case, he spent a considerable amount of time exploring the tunes--with the aid of bassist Tony Dumas--via thick, richly harmonized piano openings. Not a particularly virtuosic player, Bey seemed at times to be wandering in random fashion, an impression aided by the casual, play-it-by-ear interplay with Dumas. But his chordal usage was virtually flawless, often disguising familiar melodies with cluster-filled harmonic textures.

Bey's vocals were intriguing in a different fashion. Singing "Yesterday," for example, his voice simmered with the sensual timbre of soul music, yet his phrasing and his rhythmic articulation moved forward with the swinging propulsion of jazz. It was a fascinating combination of elements, present even in his more up-tempo efforts, made especially compelling by the passion in his voice, a lyrical cry that transcended the origins of his material.

He was less engaging with his scat singing. In a romp through Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," he repeatedly came up with bits and pieces of quotations from other tunes--a guaranteed audience-pleasing device. But in doing so, he largely lost the essential character of the song, which is, quite simply, a driving, straight-ahead blues.

That caveat aside, Bey was well worth hearing. In a jazz decade that has tended to value the examination of the past more than individual expression, it was a welcome experience to hear an artist who has no desire other than to follow his own path.

* The Andy Bey Trio at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City. (310) 271-9039. $17 admission. Tonight at 8 and 9:30.

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