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REVIEW: Chanda Rule and the Kirk Lightsey Quartet at the Vortex

L-R: Kirk Lightsey, Chanda Rule, Thomas Kugi
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney
Chanda Rule and the Kirk Lightsey Quartet
(Vortex, 22 October 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

There are so many different ways to end a song. I found myself fascinated to observe the choices that Chicago-born, New York-formed, Vienna-based Chanda Rule, making her UK debut at the Vortex, was making last night. The most obvious thing was that she was never in a hurry. Sometimes the ending would just dig further into the groove, express the joy of being in it and staying in it. She would show the simple pleasure of hanging around in a song when there is neither any wish nor any necessity to say goodbye to it. At other times there would be an extended cadenza in free-time, with lots of eye-contact and encouragement being passed around between her and her band. And sometimes she would vault up into her impressive head-voice and unleash a high note of such beauty and authority, and then hold it in perfectly true pitch, way beyond the point when some other singers would be have been calling to be resuscitated.

But in a way, those moments of grabbing the attention were untypical. Because there is nothing selfish about the role she occupies in this group. Chanda Rule seems more like one musician among the team, and appears totally comfortable with that identity. Whereas with some singers the phrase “I just love these guys” can sound like a venture into diva-cliché territory, in Chanda Rule’s case it is patently obvious that she means it 100% sincerely and completely.

Maybe one shouldn’t be surprised: her company on-stage after all does include the ever-fresh, ever-young, ever-inventive octogenarian, Detroit piano legend Kirk Lightsey. With him around, there is every reason to let the band stretch out. Indeed, Rule’s own interventions often had less of the “featured vocalist” about them, more of the character of another instrumentalist taking a solo. And that unselfish approach also came to the fore in her contributions as an integral part of a full-band intensity-build in both Afro-Blue and Angel Eyes.

Lightsey is truly a marvel. His palette of comping patterns, of soloing ideas, of pianistic colours is constantly new. And the intensifying Bill Evans-ish chord sequences he found under the words “crazy as a loon” in Over the Rainbow make one beg for an action replay. How did he do that?! Lightsey has an irresistible way of reaching for the unpredicted, for spontaneous delight. The sudden joke is his stock-in-trade. For his intermission riff, for example, he just cast off an unadorned statement of bars 5-8 of Giant Steps. And laughed.

The respect is mutual. Lightsey has said of the singer: “Chanda Rule is the most amazing, elegant, fascinating, all-in-all greatest singer I saw in the last 30 or 40 years, and I saw them all.”

The show and the album Sapphire Dreams features a band with unfamiliar names, people who seldom venture over to these shores, but fine players nonetheless. Tenor saxophonist Thomas Kugi is a leading light of the Vienna scene both as performer and teacher. He has a a muscular, tough Stanley Turrentine/Bennie Wallace kind of tone. Drunmer Dušan Novakov is an inventive player with a wonderful sense of balance (he also engineered the album) and bassist Karol Hodas (Wolfgang Derschmidt on the album) took a series of clearly expressed and impressive solos.

And Chanda Rule knows how to engage an audience emotionally. Her song Seeds, seeing Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit through the double prism of the Black Lives Matter movement and of the imperative to give her young son a sense of optimism, is a delight.

LINKS: Chanda Rule website 

Kirk Lightsey will next be in London on 18 November playing in the EFG London Jazz Festival at Crazy Coqs

Categories: Live reviews

2 replies »

  1. Kirk Lightsey has said of the singer: “Chanda Rule is the most amazing, elegant, fascinating, all-in-all greatest singer I saw in the last 30 or 40 years, and I saw them all.” And there will be lots of great music coming from Chanda Rule.

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