Tuesday, October 27, 2009

ON THE BRINK

Carl Cafagna, Jeremy St. Martin, Nicci Der-Stepanian, and Meri SlavenAfter the Metro Jazz Voices second performance, Meri you asked me for feedback. Normally, Baker’s features straight ahead acoustic jazz. I like the idea of having a jazz quartet comprised of vocalists in the tradition of Lambert, Kendricks, and Ross, and the Manhattan Transfer with a strong presence on the Detroit jazz scene. At Baker’s Keyboard Lounge last night, the MVJ show promised, performing songs such as Frank Sintra’s “Look of Love”, Oscar Peterson’s “Hymn of Freedom” and Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar”. MVJ has some strengths and noticeable weaknesses that should be addressed.

Of the four singers, you and Nicci Der-Stepanian were more polished. On "Over the Rainbow”, Der-Stepanian was divine, and you stayed poised when the microphone kept fading in an out while you sang of "Pennies from Heaven". Meri, your voice is sweet. You are the more polished singer. I believe you know that, but you never tried to upstage your band-mates.

Founder Jeremy St. Martin and Carl Cafagna were the loose links. Cafagna-the front man of Carl Cafagna & Northstar Jazz, and a key member of the Hot Club of Detroit--is a wonderful tenor saxophonist, but he’s not a natural singer. His attempt to riff like vocalist John Hendricks was brave, but Cafagna flopped. MJV’s founder, Jeremy St. Martin, was shy. I would've never guessed the quartet is his brainchild. Cafagna behaved like the ringleader. Maybe St. Martin dislikes the spotlight. Maybe from day one he decided to delegate the workload.

Hiring the Scott Gwinnell trio was smart. They know how to back vocalists. Gwinnell is multi-faceted. This summer, he released the album “Brush Fire” His orchestra rocked the Detroit International Jazz Festival last month. The album, I bet, will make many jazz critics best of 2009 list. It’ll be on mine. Meri MJV has promise. With more rehearsing, and a year or two of gigging steadily, the quartet will be tighter. Conventional jazz bands have overpopulated the Detroit jazz scene. It needs more diversity. The MJ V has a sturdy foundation to build on
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