April 02, 2004

Bey's Way

This short, concise review of Andy Bey's recent Au Bar gigs doesn't need any other words:

Andy Bey: Crooning Softly to Conceal the Pain By Stephen Holden

The quality that most distinguishes Andy Bey, a jazz singer and pianist in his mid-60's who only now is gaining recognition as one of the greats of his generation, is his gentleness. Mr. Bey, whose three-night engagement at Le Jazz au Bar ended on Sunday, is best known as a baritone crooner whose cool, resonant voice and lingering phrasing, reminiscent of the very young Nina Simone in a moment of calm, suggest a clear mountain stream pouring over a song.

But there's more to Mr. Bey than a crooner whose quieter voice lends much of what he sings the quality of a dreamy tone poem. This singer, who led a jazz trio augmented by trumpet, trombone and alto saxophone, possesses three distinctive voices that shade into one another with a seamless, pitch-perfect ease. In his languid way he juxtaposes those voices and the moods they evoke to create intense dramatic conflicts that are beautiful but also alarming in that they express a tragic awareness of life. And they make you realize the extent to which a soothing crooner conceals many painful personal wounds.

The most dramatic moment at Friday's early show was Mr. Bey's treatment of E. Y. Harburg and Jay Gorney's Depression-era anthem, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" The group took the song very slowly and calmly, until he could not hold himself in any longer and barked a desperate, humiliated plea for spare change.

The ruminative tempo of the performance helped enlarge the song from a period piece into a broader historical contemplation of racial and economic injustice that culminated in a half-stifled cry: enough is enough.

Just missed out on the Friday performance. Hopefully, I'll be able to catch him when he performs in Brooklyn.

Posted by ronn at April 2, 2004 09:06 PM

Nice!!! Did you pickup American Song yet? Posted by: James on April 3, 2004 11:59 AM
Daddy Jazz: I was going to pick up a copy at the Au Bar performance, but missed the show. Luckily for me, a good friend got a copy for me and my baby. If you can, get the Border's version, it includes a song co-written by Bey, "Look." Posted by: ronn on April 3, 2004 09:11 PM