(Pizza on the Park, March 4th 2010, review by Zena James and Sarah Ellen Hughes)
Haitian-born New York vocalist Pauline Jean had four dates in London this week on her first European presentation of a Nina Simone tribute. An eclectic contralto singer with an impressive and satisfying lower register, she was occasionally reminiscent of a smoother Cassandra Wilson, at other times of a gutsy Diane Reeves.
Beautiful, elegant and physically expressive, Pauline delivered an interesting programme with grace and poise. Highlights of the gig were the emotionally charged Simone anthem Four Women (1966), the conviction of Billie Holiday’s Tell Me More and Then Some, and an original tribute to Haiti sung in her native Kreyòl. That number gave a glimpse of the passionate vocalist Pauline can be, particularly when she delivers her own material.
But in her tribute to Nina Simone, something of the guts, the personality and the vibe of Nina Simone went missing. And she probably would have given a stronger, more convincing and less hesitant performance if she’d had more unified support from the band, Alex Web-piano, Gary Crosby -bass and Rod Youngs-drums
There was a strange lack of cohesion at times, it somehow just didn’t swing. There were some well-choreographed numbers, and Pauline made an effort to engage the audience and the band, but it seemed that the group hadn’t played together enough to really let go and let the music happen.
But a few tunes saved the day. Simone’s Four Women was the obvious winner, delivered with passion, drama, high-tuned toms – which added an extra dimension that merged beautifully with the vocals – and a moody bass line. The 1930’s American folk song made popular by Simone, Sea Lion Woman got the small, reserved audience involved and made a much-needed connection between singer and listener.
Pauline Jean’s usual repertoire includes original compositions, standards, blues and traditional Afro-Haitian music fused with jazz. Somehow on Thursday she didn’t live up to the expectations left by her recordings – she released a likeable debut CD, A Musical Offering (Sekonsa)in 2009.