Somewhere beneath the surface of the elusive art of jazz singing there is an element that is too often overlooked. That is the capacity of a vocalist to become a part of an ensemble, an integrated, blending, interactive component in the unfolding process of making music.
Nnenna Freelon accomplishes that task as well as--perhaps better than--anyone in the rapidly burgeoning field of jazz singing. On Tuesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill, in the opening set of a five-night run, she offered a virtual seminar in the art of working in a superbly empathetic fashion with supportive players. (Appropriately so, given the fact that the performance also was a benefit for National Partners in Education, an arts education support program for which Freelon serves as national spokeswoman.)
She devoted virtually her entire set to material from her new Concord album, "Soulcall," a collection of some of the finest music she has ever recorded. And, since her ensemble included the principal players from the CD--pianist Takana Miyamoto, bassist Wayne Batchelor, percussionist Beverly Botsford and drummer Woody Williams, the music flowed with easygoing assurance, creating the sort of confident setting that allows the free play of creativity.
Freelon had fun with her quirky settings of "Button Up Your Overcoat" and "Say a Little Prayer"; she was hip and swinging with "Better Than Anything"; and she encored with a rendering of her own touching appeal, "One Child at a Time."