Left – Dee Dee Bridgewater. Photo – Mark Higashino
Jazz tends to be associated with small intimate venues which allow the audience to be up close and personal with the performers. A venue like the Melbourne Town Hall, large and cavernous as it is, did not seem the ideal place in which to experience The Dee Dee Bridgewater Quintet, but then I'd left Bridgewater out of the picture. She is a charismatic dynamo. At sixty-two, with over forty years experience as a singer, she has an energy that seems unstoppable and a personality that cannot help but draw in her audience. Last night she gave a near capacity crowd a night to remember, taking them from the bluesy ballads of Billie Holiday, with a segue into Latin, to a musical climax of jazz/funk that had the crowd on its feet, clapping along and joining in the call and response. Get Up she called and they responded with enthusiasm.
The Dee Dee Bridgewater Quintet is made up of five wonderful instrumentalists: Bridgewater – voice; Craig Handy – saxophone, clarinet and flute; Edsel Gomez – piano; Michael Bowie – bass; and Kenny Phelps – drums.
Bridgewater's voice has an impressive range from the deeply heartfelt to high penetrating notes that sear the soul. When she vocalises with one or other of the instruments, there is no doubt that her voice is a fine and polished instrument that beautifully plays off, or plays with, saxophone, flute, drums, bass or piano. Each of these is given its duet with Bridgewater, sometimes up tempo and playful, at others soulful and romantic.
The evening began on a quiet, heartfelt, jazz note with Bridgewater's interpretation of several of Billie Holiday's songs, among them Lady Sings the Blue, Lover Man and Don't Explain. Bridgewater's version of A Foggy Day started with a joking reference to Melbourne and with its fast tempo had Edsel Gomez's fingers flying across the keyboard and his feet, echoing the movements of his hand, dancing back and forth beneath the piano stool. Michael Bowie's bass was encouraged to converse with the audience whilst we get into the feeling before Bridgewater joined in with her vocals for an approriately slower and more romantic version of My Man.
The tempo picked up further with a touch of Latin and an upbeat version of My Favourite Things, which allowed the drummer, Kenny Phelps to shine in a duet with Bridgewater.
A standing ovation called the quintet back and some light banter with an audience member led into an enthusiastic rendition of James Brown's Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine followed by Gene McDaniels 1960s protest song Compared to What? The energy was palpable and reached out to draw in every audience member so that the evening ended on the highest of high notes.
This year's Melbourne International Jazz Festival came to a fitting crescendo with the performance of The Bridgewater Bridgewater Quintet. If you missed out do search out her CDs, you won't regret the effort.
2012 Melbourne Internationa Lazz Festival
The Dee Dee Bridgewater Quintet
Venue: Melbourne Town Hall
Date/Time: 8pm, Sunday 10 June, 2012