The lioness in autumn♦
Nancy Wilson is one of the few remaining veterans of the golden age of vocal jazz stylists. At 69 she has seen and done it all, and if she wants to phone it in— as, say, the octogenarian Tony Bennett does these days at any given time— she can coast on a variety of vocal swoops and swirls and other affectations that audiences adore.
At Verizon Hall’s jazz series opening, Wilson admitted that she doesn’t want to work and that she and her band had appeared together only nine times in the past two years. Indeed, her opening rendition of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” seemed under-rehearsed, and on several songs Wilson seemed to be working out play list details with her arranger and piano accompanist, Lew Matthews.
But Wilson finally engaged with her sinewy trio (Matthews, John B. Williams on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums) for Johnny Mercer’s “Day in, Day Out,” a song whose clipped tempo suits Wilson’s octave diving and staccato phrasing perfectly. Then she essayed half a dozen songs in great voice— sonorous, unpredictable and unique— at which point her concert turned into a real set. Her belting entry phrase on Bonnie Raitt’s torch song “I Can’t Make You Love Me” led to a fully dramatic reading replacing Raitt‘s plaintive vocal.
Wilson’s singular prowess on such standards as “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair” reveal a jazz diva in the full bloom of autumn, but with all the heart of spring. She hooked an astringently high note interpretation of “My Funny Valentine” that several audience members found so off-putting that off they bolted. Too bad they didn’t hang around long enough for Wilson to cruise in for the silky bittersweet landing.
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