REVIEW: René Marie in Certaldo (Italy)

René Marie in Certaldo
L-R: Bruce Barth, René Marie, Stephen Keogh, Arnie Somogyi, Perico Sambeat

René Marie
(Palazzo Pretorio, Certaldo Alto, Tuscany, 8th August 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

René Marie drew her audience in last night, right from her very first number, an unaccompanied medley of songs about smiling and happiness. She then kept both fascination and unflagging attention alive through the whole concert. While the Virginia-born, 2015 Grammy-nominated singer is completely at home under the close, nowhere-to-hide scrutiny of an audience in a small club setting, it is also abundantly clear that a broader public could latch on to what she does. Her material, completely owned and authentic, and her stage charisma, would make the transition to  larger venues easy to envisage.

Whereas last year’s performances (review link below) tended to concentrate on the material from her successful Eartha Kitt album, this was a move forwards beyond that, a performance much more on her own terms. Through the nine songs of her set she showed an astonishing range of expression. In It’s All Right with Me, performed as a flawlessly tuned duo with Arnie Somogyi, she showed how she can sustain the momentum and the direction in a long, stretched-out arc of melody. In If I Were A Bell, she made the most surprising of transitions in a split second, such as the one  from the cuteness of a Victorian drawing room ballad to a rootsy pop-anthem finale. Detour Ahead, a final duo with Bruce Barth, was as delicately shaded musically as it was affecting emotionally. Marie also cajoles, responds, provokes, prods, interjects, approves, animates. Saxophonist colleague Perico Sambeat proved a persuasive soloist and also the ideal foil for dialogue with both Marie’s singing and whistling. There was an ever-present and positive spirit of surprise. The on-the-stand, on-the-hoof arrangements kept going to delightful places, but Marie’s communicative power as bandleader meant that every unexpected excursion had authority and purpose.

One remarkable feature of René Marie’s music and stagecraft is her genuine generosity of spirit to those around her. She doesn’t miss an opportunity to show them her appreciation (as she did in this video thanking her fellow musiciands and other team members for the part they had played in her 2015 Grammy nomination). Last night the context of the beauty of Certaldo Alto and the presence of some long-standing collaborators conspired to bring out the best. Pianist Bruce Barth, who produced some of her earlier albums for Maxjazz was a master of light and shade, particularly in the duet encore Detour Ahead. The environment of the medieval town  has inspired a touching song Certaldo, receiving it’s “in situ” premiere last night, and featured the lyrical playing of guest guitarist Libor Smoldas. Drummer Stephen Keogh also produced surprise by suddenly reining back volume and intensity.  

Last time Rene Marie was in London, one eminent British performer thanked her in the comments to our review for having given a master-class. Last night was a performance which I will be lining up for our gigs-of-the year list.

René Marie (foreground) with Libor Smoldas

René Marie (vocal)
Bruce Barth (piano)
Arnie Somogyi (bass)
Stephen Keogh (drums)
Perico Sambeat (alto sax)
Guest: Libor Smoldas (guitar)


Unnacompanied Medley : When you’re smiling / Smile / Make Someone Happy
Summertime (Gershwin)
Sleeping Bee (Harold Arlen)
If I were a bell (Frank Loesser)
It’s all right with Me (Cole Porter) duo with bass
Certaldo (Marie) – with guest Libor Smoldas
Colorado River Song
A Hard Day’s Night (arr. John Toomey)
Encore: Detour Ahead  – duo with piano

LINKS: Review of Pizza Express in July 2014 by Nicky Schrire
CD Review I Wanna Be Evil: With Love to Eartha Kitt

Sebastian is the guest of the Global Music Foundation summer course in Certaldo Alto and of the Jazz in the Castle concert series

Categories: miscellaneous

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