|Kellylee Evans Takes on Lawn Chair Curmudgeons, Dizzying Heat and Prevails||| Print ||
|Written by Kris Millett|
|Monday, 19 July 2010 00:00|
"Am I the only one who's hot?" remarked Kellylee Evans to the Ottawa Jazz Fest crowd before turning the temperature up a notch with some slick R&B and soulful balladry on a hazy Sunday evening.
One of the hottest nights in Ottawa had met its match in Evans, who after a big 2007 that included Juno and Gemini nominations and the prize for Best Female Artist at the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards, is back and in the midst of a cross-Canada tour in support of the latest album The Good Girl.
With her 3-piece ensemble already initiating the groove, Evans strode out to stage and launched with the brooding opener "Lost," which was immediately more impressive sounding compared to on record. Her clean-cut figure and classy, enthusiastic stage demeanour buoyed Kellylee's rich soulful voice. Moreover, the sound quality was surprisingly good for an outdoor, low budget festival, at least from my perspective in the press space, where I talked my way in without credentials or accreditation.
Her smoky delivery coalesced perfectly with the hot atmosphere that night, as employed exquisitely on "Questioning My Path." The song veered into introspective balladry yet averted schmaltziness do to the sharp performance of her crack band. The musicianship shone further on "You" a song dedicated to her deceased mother, complete with a complex prog-funk breakdown and bits of straight up Jazz. It made Kellylee and her band a fitting booking considering the festival's intended theme (not that I'm pointing fingers, Bluesfest . . .).
The only thing that seemed out of place that night was the audience. There was surreal aspect to viewing the sexy soul singer and hip backing band lay down sultry grooves in front of a smattering of grey-haired men and women sitting stalk still in lawn chairs. Yes, Kellylee, you certainly were the only one who is hot . . .
She did her damndest to wake up the sun-dazed bunch. "Say It" opened with dreamy Lenny Breau-like guitar licks and volume pedal tricks courtesy of guitarist Dave Thompson, which blended into a tantalizing slow jam whose charm may have been lost on this crowd, 90% of whose sex lives probably burned out by the late 1980s. Midpoint, one senior fellow in a green hat did get on his feet and started bopping on his own, literally the only person standing besides the performers.
Another highlight (for me, anyways) was "No Disguise" which picked up the tempo and featured an arrangement veering into World Music territory and heaps of virtuosic jazz shredding. The echo tricks employed on Evan's vocals on "Tonight" did receive an appreciative crowd response, while the instrumental middle of "Hooked" garnered the first mid song applause of the set, prompting the green-hatted only-man-standing to attempt to get the attention of some nearly young lasses with his moves.The concert pinnacle came during a compelling performance of "Free," a song that Evans acknowledged was written during Black History Month. Her goal was to try to imagine how Nelson Mandela managed to survive prolonged solitary confinement, concluding "you have to already think you're free before they release you." The compassion in her vocal delivery was palpable, and it was impressive how well Evans handles weightier lyrical fare - considering that most artists do day-to-day drama well, but butcher political statements. Adding to the poignancy was pared down instrumentation - warm throbbing bass and clean slabs of thick jazz guitar and a little bongo. It received the best audience reception, though crowd interest had been increasing continuously throughout her set, to the point where most patrons got out of their lawn chairs, if only for a brief moment, to salute her strong A cappella chops on set finisher "Glad It's You."
One of Kellylee Evans prime assets is her engaging stage presence, which rubbed off on her band, who looked to be genuinely enjoying themselves on stage. Their collective musical chops go far to separate Evans from the run-of-the-mill R&B/pop pack.
The only notable weakness were her attempts at crowd interaction which, well intended as they may have been, were for the most part ineffectual. Banter was at times awkwardly delivered, as Evans seemed much more comfortable expressing herself through song. A solo clap crowd participation experiment leading into "Through" fell flat, as did a late-song attempt to teach the audience to sing along - to which Evans added "Right, I think I heard five of you." Things picked up a bit, but I still felt like I was at church. The timeslot, heat, and audience age did her no favours though.
To Evans' credit, her enthusiasm was never disturbed, keeping up the impression she was playing for best crowds of her lifetime, though that clearly could not be what she was thinking when she gazed out at the free floating beach balls repeatedly slamming off surprised and angry octogenarians' heads. Nevertheless, on an insanely hot Ottawa night in July, she succeeded in making the curmudgeonly bunch, and this reviewer, feel special.
(Cult)ure Magazine: In your singing on The Good Girl, I hear the influence of Al Green in the way you approach and hold your notes. At other points, I hear the compassionate delivery of a Marvin Gaye. Whom would you cite as your main musical influences?
Kellylee Evans: Wow, I've never had someone make that connection. That's definitely cool. I've listened to both growing up, but never made a study of them. I'd say that my sound, phrasing, and style developed via osmosis from listening to my mother's record collection when I was growing up. So that would include everything from Nina Simone to calypso and soca. Later on, I spent a great deal of time listening the great vocalists of jazz: Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme. Let's not forget opera's Maria Callas.
I love music. It's all in there. Rock, country, pop, classical, hip hop, and soul. I'm a music appreciator.
(C): The Good Girl is your sophomore album, and it definitely takes you further in a Pop/R&B direction than the last one. Were you concerned with how fans would react to it?
KE: I was initially, but then I realized if I went through my fans record collection, it would include music from many genres and styles. I realized that I should give [fans] the credit that they could grow with me and be 'open eared,' just like me. The response has been incredibly positive.
(C): On the title track, you explore the meaning behind the concept of the 'good girl.' There seems to be a sense of reluctance, internal strife in occupying that role . . . As a side note, I find your image seems to fly in the face of the more, say, promiscuous ones of female pop stars of the last decade.
KE: I am the quintessential 'good girl,' and the album definitely chronicles a period where I began to question the effect of that restrictive construct on my actions or lack thereof. The music reflects fantasy for the most part, but there are aspects of where reality and fiction coincide. It's highly autobiographical.
On image, that's been a period of growth for me. My image has definitely taken a more promiscuous turn if you take into consideration where I once was. So, while it might not measure up on the shock value level with some artists, it was a stretch for me. (laughs)
(C): Do you notice, as a female artist, a difference in the way males and females are treated. In a related vein, do you consider good looks to be a blessing or a curse?
KE: I tend to not notice that kind of stuff [treatment of the sexes]. Funny, huh? But the people I associate with and work with seem to . . .
I mean, it's clear that I'm a girl, and there's a certain attention and attitude that comes from being 'a girl,' but I don't notice it being a detriment. Perhaps I lived this way for so long, I'm just used to it. I just go about my business and try to keep happy.
With respect to good looks, I just started believing that people were being truthful when they complemented me on my looks a few years ago, so I can't comment on a blessing or curse. I lived in a different world where I thought I didn't fit the classic ideal of beauty and so that -- attention for my looks - wasn't part of my life.
Then one day I started to think, "Well, what if I am good looking?" "What if?" Your life changes. I wish all women, all people would try it. All of sudden you start to notice things that didn't seem to exist before. You'll start to hear the nice things people have always been saying about you and to you but in the past were too blinded by negative self-regard to see. But you don't want me to preach.
Just to clarify, it doesn't mean I think I'm hot stuff. I just don't think I'm not hot stuff anymore. Life changing!
(C): Your introspective writing style comes through on the song "Questioning My Path." Elsewhere you sing "I know my place in this world" . . . Do you feel you are coming into your own now, as a musician and person, or are these changes just a signpost on a continuing journey? And if so, do you know your destination?
KE: It's definitely a continuing journey! I soooo don't have anything figured out, which I think really comes across in the lyrics for "Questioning." I have much further to go, and that's exciting, too. I love all the cool changes that have happened in my life, and I love that my music chronicles those hills and valleys.
(C): You are an accomplished painter, and you act. How have these interests affected your music and live performances?
KE: Once I start working in another medium, it strangely informs the other. When I am doing none of the above, I'm dry and lifeless. Once I get started in one, the others begin to be fed and I, in turn, am fed. I love to create.
(C): You are in the midst of a cross-Canada tour, playing at many festivals. Can you give readers a glimpse of what kind of show they can expect from you?
KE: There is energy exchanged. Fun is had. Moments are created. The music will engage you at times, and, at others, its sole aim is to wrap you up in a cocoon. It's as much a pleasure for the musicians and me to perform as we hope it is for the audience. I can't wait until our next show.
Kellylee Evans' 2010 release The Good Girl is in stores now, and she can be seen performing onstage at First Canadian Place in Toronto, Ont. on August 5.
Tags: can con, festival, fire, interview, jazz, kellylee evans, music, ottawa, review, the good girl, tour