Energy, excitement and exhilaration are common characteristics of a Dee Dee Bridgewater performance. And her opening night Wednesday at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood added another: entertainment. The drive to engage an audience, to keep the pace quickening, to perform at the highest level of intensity seem to be the most essential aspects of her musical goals at this point in her career.
All of which would be well and good if she had added other elements to the mix -- dynamic variation, musical subtlety and lyrical storytelling among them.
Bridgewater's program, largely devoted to the music from her Kurt Weill tribute album, "This Is New," was a case in point. The combination would seem to make sense. Bridgewater is a successful musical theater performer, comfortable with the grand gestures of the big stage, and there are numerous Weill songs that provide sufficiently dramatic vehicles for such interpretations.
Unfortunately, most of Bridgewater's choices ran into conflicts between song and style, between lyrical intent and performance interpretation. "Speak Low," for example, overlooked the lyrics and instead spoke loudly, climaxing with an ebullient vocal simulation of a trombone solo. "September Song" was rendered over a turbulent funk rhythm, "This Is New" became an odd blending of salsa and samba, and "Alabama Song" was driven by a dully repetitious backbeat.
With the sole exception of "Lost in the Stars," Bridgewater sang everything with the same hyperactive explosiveness, accompanying her vocals with nonstop movement, facial mugging and interspersed scat passages. The balance between intimate musical connections and propulsive swing that often characterized her early work was nowhere to be heard.
Instead, Bridgewater offered her larger-than-life musical-theater persona -- bold, bawdy and entertaining. Interesting as such, to be sure. But it would have been far more intriguing to have heard the full creative range of this talented, Grammy-winning artist.
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Where: Catalina Bar & Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
When: 8:30 and 10:30 tonight and Saturday; 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday
Price: $20-$30 with dinner or two-drink minimum purchase
Contact: (323) 466-2210