JAZZ REVIEW L.A. Times
February 19, 2007
By Don Heckman, Critic
OCTET SPANS THE SPECTRUM
An Octet in Jazz Language is a musical concept in progress, and a pretty intriguing one, at that.The premise is simple enough. Start with the unusual combination of players: four first rate jazz vocalists, Cathy Segal-Garcia, Cheryl Barnes, Stephanie Haynes and Sherry Williams.: add Michael C. Ford and the sterling trio of pianist Karen Hammack, bassist Chris Connor, and drummer Quentin Dennard-assemble a group of tunes-some familiar standards, some offbeat originals- interweave them with Ford's often sardonic poems and toss in some brisk improvising from the musicians.
The Octet's performance at Gianelli Square in Northridge on Saturday night provided a convincing indicator of the concept's potential, despite occasional glitches in the way it was delivered. The singers' styles ranged freely across the jazz spectrum, Barnes' impressive vocal range with it's warm, engaging coloration was well displayed in "Why Did I Choose You?", Haynes who always combines emotional intimacy with a heartbeat if swing was superb on "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes". Williams with a visual appearance of a young Ella Fitzgerald, imbued everything she sang with the soul of jazz. She was particularly impressive on a lyrical "Day by Day" and a laid back offbeat reading of "How High The Moon".
Segal-Garcia was at her best when emphasizing her dark-toned, middle range sound in a jazz take on Sting's "Fragile", but it was hard to understand why she rendered the floating melody and atmospheric lyrics of the classic "The Island" as a grooving swing tune. Ford's poetry(bearing titles such as "Madonna and Prince are invited aboard the Deathstar" sneaked in and out of songs, sometimes making spontaneous connections, sometimes contrasting in disconcerting fashion. The juxapositionn of "What Ever Happened to Hansel and Gretel, a contemporary variation on the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, was one of the more startling examples).
But Ford's work possessed the quick rhythms and irreverent spontaneity of jazz, a perfect ingredient for this musical gumbo. Hammack understandably known as a superb accompanist for singers, led Conners and Denard in a demanding sequence of tunes, adjusting their backing for the special qualities of each vocalist.
If there were moments of which more rehearsals were clearly called for "The Octet in Jazz Language" nonetheless was an innovative approach to displaying the rich, varied language of jazz.