9:57 AM CST, February 15, 2013
Valentine's Day was a little bland this year, at least for one listener who ventured to the Jazz Showcase, where Chicago singer Ava Logan opened a four-night engagement.
Though pleasant, earnest and sometimes even polished, Logan played it entirely safe, singing familiar repertoire in conventional ways. For those who wanted nothing more than to hear a lovely melody dispatched without disturbance, Logan surely filled the bill. But for anyone who hoped to hear a sense of invention or a beguiling vocal instrument or real interpretive savvy, these were not to be encountered on Thursday evening.
To her credit, Logan performed without pretense, her delivery straightforward and honest, her manner sweetly inviting. She made sure every note was plain to hear, even if she struggled with intonation throughout her first set. Similarly, she delivered lyrics crisply, each piece performed with considerable control, as if it had been rehearsed ad infinitum.
Which was part of the problem. The utter predictability of this music-making defied the essence of jazz, which critic Whitney Balliett famously called "the sound of surprise." There were precious few moments of spontaneity or risk-taking or free-wheeling improvisation. Just classic tunes politely performed.
Moreover, Logan failed to take command of the stage or the evening, yielding too much of the spotlight to pianist Willie Pickens' dynamic trio. After opening her performance with a somewhat corny reading of the opening strains of Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" – were the silly facial expressions really necessary? – Logan immediately turned over the proceedings to the band. At this point, Pickens, bassist Larry Gray and drummer Robert Shy each offered an extended solo. They had a great deal to say, and Logan quickly found herself marginalized in her own show.
She turned in some heartfelt singing in "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons" and lingered on the French lyrics to "I Wish You Love." But here, as elsewhere, she sang an opening verse that cried out for further elaboration. Just when you wanted her to take flight, she stepped to the side, leaving the band to steal the moment.
Logan magnified the problem by later disappearing to the periphery of the stage while Pickens' trio stormed its way through Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco." This eruption in the midst of Logan's set made her later work seem slight by comparison.
Vocally, Logan can be considered adequate, though her smallish voice lacked tonal luster on this night. She erred in taking on "Save Your Love for Me," a soaring Nancy Wilson signature tune that only the most formidable vocalists need attempt.
In a town that's home to such accomplished singers as Dee Alexander, Tammy McCann and Bobbi Wilsyn, this was a peculiar booking, particularly for the Valentine's Day weekend, when distinctive readings of love songs clearly are in order.
Maybe next time.
When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.
Admission: $20-$30; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com
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