As good as any scat singer alive … Dee Alexander. Photo: Supplied
Foundry 616, November 5
Dee Alexander is one of the best-kept secrets in jazz. To hear singers of this calibre you usually must visit a concert hall. Headlining the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival, Alexander may be heard in the intimacy of Ultimo’s Foundry 616 – this time, anyway.
Dee Alexander: As good as any scat singer alive. Photo: Henry Rasmussen, courtesy of ABC Jazz (abc.net.au/jazz)
She hails from Chicago and her voice can be as big a church. She seldom summoned it all, however, just as she only gradually revealed her impressive range. Power and range are merely tools, and Alexander is more focused on tonal splendour, nuanced phrasing and precise dynamics. Above all she has stepped through the portal into the art of the improviser.
The opening As Long As You’re Living was competent, charming, even, but unremarkable. By the fifth song, a cunning arrangement of Perdido, she was proving herself as good as any scat singer alive: perhaps the best since Betty Carter, bringing a thrilling sense of abandon to bear, without being mannered.
Fast forward to the second set and on You And I (Henry Huff) she was suddenly spreading wings, not just of surprise and risk-taking, but of sheer beauty. Thereafter she stayed in this zone, whether peeling paint from the walls on Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, improvising bird sounds against the reggae groove of Rossignol or flying into the stratosphere on Baba Fred (the latter two also evidence of her song-writing skills).
Creating the updraft was her brilliant collaborator Miguel de la Cerna, a pianist of irresistible grooves and dazzling invention, who is worth the price of admission by himself. Sydney’s Brett Hirst (bass) and Tim Firth (drums), meanwhile, have never played with more conviction and panache – or sharper ears.
Dee Alexander: Foundry 616, Friday & Saturday.