OTTAWA - Who’s that girl?
The first time I heard Janelle Monae sing, it was on a car commercial. The song, the frentically-paced Tightrope, made the economy car appear to go as fast as a Ferrari. Anyone buying this bucket better have Tightrope playing on the stereo. Otherwise, I suspect they’ll be disappointed with the car’s performance.
That’s the kind of impressive 0-60 performance Monae gave last night at the 2012 Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Opening with a spacey orchestral swirl, Monae’s large band of strings, brass and rhythm dressed in modified tuxedoes, and singers dressed like Trappist monks swirled dervishly around Monae — sporting the biggest pompadour since Johnny Cash — on the opening songs Dance or Die and Faster.
That seemed to be the theme of Monae’s show. Raw energy. From the choreographed chorus lines that included moon walking while she sang Sincerely Jane and painting a canvas during Mushrooms & Roses, Monae seemed to be constantly in motion, creating a new scenario for each song. Standouts were Dorothy Dandridge Eyes, a cover of Jackson’s I Want You Back, Cold War and Tightrope. I especially liked her cover of James Bond movie themes including You Only Live Twice and Goldfinger.
Fantasy suits her, and made for an intense hour-long set (not including a lengthy encore). No wonder everyone in Confederation Park was on their feet from the moment she arrived.
Calling a show this big a concert would be misleading. This was musical theatre. I haven’t experienced a talent to entertain this large since Michael Jackson.
The big buzz so far at this year’s festival was for singer Gretchen Parlato. There’s something about new female singers that gets people worked up, and this year, Parlato’s that girl. Lady. Woman.
Not surprising then, that fans were climbing over each other at the National Arts Centre’s 300-seat Studio theatre to get a closer look and listen to Parlato, who secured her place in music history when she became the daughter of Dave Parlato, Frank Zappa’s bass-player.
I only mention that her grandfather played with Liberace for a little colour. Later, she impressed Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Terence Blanchard so much, she won the prestigious Thelonius Monk Award.
Parlato and her excellent trio of piano, bass and drums don’t do power per se. Parlato is a vocal stylist extraordinaire who appeared to go into a trance to access the depths of her imagination including a reimagination of Simply Red’s Turning Back the Years.
At her most inventive, she appeared almost orgasmic. But best of all was the chemistry that Parlato and her band have that made last night’s performance as fascinating to watch as it was to hear.