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Jazz Review

Make Sure to Remember the Name: Rene Marie

April 14, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OK, here's a warning. Tonight is the only time, for now, at least, that you'll have an opportunity to hear a virtually unknown jazz singer with the talent, the imagination and the sheer presence to be included in the very top level of performers. Her name (don't forget it) is Rene Marie, and she is concluding a too-brief, four-night run at the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Marie's Thursday night set was a marvel, a cornucopia of inventive musical expressiveness. Much of the material was familiar--"What a Difference a Day Makes," "A Sleeping Bee," "It's All Right With Me"--but the interpretations were anything but.

In each case, Marie found a way to make the material her own. "Them There Eyes," for example, became a hard-swinging, improvisational romp, accompanied only by Bob Hurst's bass work and Harvey Mason's drumming, in which she interacted with the verve and ingenuity of an instrumentalist, tossing phrases back and forth with the other players. Another Billie Holiday number, "Strange Fruit"--already one of the most intensely disturbing songs in the pop music lexicon--rose in a gradual, but inexorable crescendo, climaxing into devastating cries of pain and anger.

Other songs, if less emotionally gripping, were equally compelling musically, overflowing with Marie's sheer joy in the act of performing. Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk" served as a vehicle to introduce her players--Hurst, Mason and pianist John Beasley--as well as an opportunity for Marie to display her high-spirited, irresistibly swinging approach to vocal improvisation. (Describing what she does as "scat singing" would be to minimize the extraordinary panoply of vocal sounds she employed.)

But the most impressive piece of the evening was a segment in which Marie, sitting alone on a stool, calmly detailed the story of her life--of her constant fascination with music, of the obstacles that prevented her from embracing it until she was into her 40s (she is now 45)--held together with a cappella passages from the song "How Can I Keep From Singing?" (also the title track from her new MaxJazz album).

If there's any justice in the jazz world, Marie will have a full house for her closing performances tonight, and she will soon be offered the opportunity for a return engagement--at the Cinegrill or even (hint, hint) a much larger venue. (Travelers to San Francisco, in the meantime, can also hear her at the Plush Room next Tuesday through Sunday.)

* Rene Marie at the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd, at 8 and 10:30 tonight. $15 cover, two-drink minimum. (323) 466-7000.

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