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The wide world of Dwight Trible

With his varied repertoire and galvanic delivery, the singer occupies a musical continent all his own.

April 18, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Jazz singing is one of the most elusive of performing arts. With performers ranging from Louis Armstrong to Andy Bey, from Sarah Vaughan to Diana Krall comfortably positioned within the same far-reaching tent, the genre's definitions can be as varied as the artists themselves.

Even granting that diversity, however, singer Dwight Trible has to be considered a rarity. Although he mentions Betty Carter and (surprisingly) Richie Havens as influences, and the vocal dialect of Leon Thomas occasionally surfaces in his singing, Trible seems for the most part to be his own creative persona.

On Sunday night at the Jazz Bakery, performing with pianist John Rangel, bassist Trevor Ware, saxophonist Joshua Spiegelman, drummer Daniel Bejarano and percussionist Derf Recklaw, he displayed all his unique attributes. He started the opening set with the Charlie Chaplin classic "Smile," investing it with the round, open tones, soaring high notes and dramatic gestures that are essential to his style. Several other unlikely choices followed -- Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Until It's Time for You to Go," Vincent Youmans' "Without a Song" and Eden Ahbez's "Nature Boy."

The repertoire was intriguing, given the fact that Trible's associations with Pharoah Sanders, poet Kamau Daaood and the late Billy Higgins and Horace Tapscott have tended to link him with music that blends African roots music and sensibilities with unfettered jazz and blues. And there were moments in his set -- the spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," for example -- when those qualities took center stage, filtered through Trible's internal musical perspective, further energized by his occasional use of primal screams and shouts. In those idiosyncratic passages, he truly was like no other jazz singer.

But there were other passages, especially in the songbook numbers, in which Trible's theatricality -- his physical posturing, his dynamic shifts from soft to loud, his command of the stage -- suggested the ambience of musical theater, the operatic stage or a speaker's platform.

Trible has often spoken of, and acted upon, his dedication to peace, love and community. And, given the way he galvanized his Bakery audience, one couldn't help but be fascinated by the potential residing within his capacity to invest jazz singing with proselytizing qualities more commonly heard in pop and folk music.

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