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Jazz Review

Lettau Adds Her Eclectic Touch to Police Tunes

March 25, 2000|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Singer Kevyn Lettau has been strongly identified with Brazilian music--a reflection, no doubt, of her association with Sergio Mendes and her own Brazilian-oriented recordings. But Lettau recently has been staking out more inclusive musical territory, gradually establishing a personal style that embraces contemporary jazz, mainstream, rock, reggae and, yes, Brazilian rhythms.

On Thursday, in the first set of a two-night run at La Ve LeeC in Studio City, she introduced a number of selections from a soon-to-be-released album, "Police." Appropriately enough, the works all traced to the influential '70s and '80s English band.

And the choice of the Police tunes by Sting was a good one, since, as with Lettau, a strong undercurrent of jazz is ever-present in the group's music. Her renderings of pieces such as "Message in a Bottle," "Murder by Numbers" and "Walking on the Moon" drew them into her own musical framework, a style that positions her freely roving, highly flexible voice within rhythmic surroundings rich with jazz-funk accents.

Lettau also offered a few of her own originals, most of them written with keyboardist Russell Ferrante (of the Yellowjackets), who also accompanied her, along with guitarist Mike Miller, bassist Jerry Watts and drummer Michael Shapiro.

Highly personal in orientation--the gentle "The Language of Flowers" (the title of a 1998 Lettau album); "What My Eyes Have Seen," an intense personal memory; and the quirky, rhythmically buoyant "Thin Skin"--they were delivered with Lettau's characteristic blend of emotional intensity and briskly swinging musical enthusiasm.

What became clear in her varied set was the essential fact that Lettau, despite her colorful eclecticism, is a jazz artist at heart. But, to her credit, she is doing what she does her own way, and that, after all, is what jazz is really all about.

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