|Lalah Hathaway at the Jazz Cafe. Photo credit: Georgia Djiabouras|
(Jazz Cafe, 17th May 2012. Review by Alison Bentley)
How to descibe Lalah Hathaway's voice? Rachel Ferrelle said it's like 'rich, melted organic chocolate'. And the devoted audience at the Jazz Cafe were eating out of her hand, wanting to dance, but also not wanting to miss a note. Her voice is her legacy from her father, the late soul singer Donny Hathaway. 'I am here so that he can stay here,' she says. Her deep voice is in the same register as his high sweet one, and if you close your eyes it could sometimes be him. But Lalah brings a jazz sensiblity to his soul embellishments and mellow vibrato.
Lalah studied jazz at Berklee, and has worked with everyone from Dizzy to George Benson, but she wore her jazz credentials lightly on the gig until she sang a long scat solo over a Fender Rhodes-led funky theme (by pianist Oscar Stieler). Her notes were perfectly placed and rhythmic, like Ella Fitgerald scatting Lemondrop over an Erykah Badu tune. The audience cheered every long high note, and whooped at every tricky phrase. The jazziness is completely integrated into her style- lydian, melodic minor and whole tone phrases slip by and sound natural in their subtle timing and phrasing. It's like Rachelle Ferrelle's improvising, but more reserved, and the tone and feel always come first. 'How y'all feeling?' she kept asking the audience, and the gig was all about the good vibe. In interviews Lalah has said that her musical education doesn't get in the way of what she feels.
Instrumental solos were short, apart from US bassist Erick 'Pikfunk' Smith's fine Jaco-style feature, but the band had a democratic feel. Lalah doesn't always dominate the stage- when her backing singers (US's Jason Morales and UK's Sharlene Hector) improvised solos, Lalah looked as if she was enjoying their singing as much as anything in the evening.
Yesterday, sung with just guitar, (featuring versatile Bruno Charles) recalled Lizz Wright's acoustic Dreaming Wide Awake album- Lalah's gorgeous tone is like Lizz- but with more R&B inflection, like India Arie. Summertime was a reminder that Lalah recorded this fine funky version live with Marcus Miller.
Many of the songs had an R&B feel, (If You Want To had cool drumming by UK's Pete Ray Biggin) invoking Dianne Reeves' work with George Duke, but Lalah's singing is more understated. Angel sounded on the surface like the Anita Baker classic, but careful listening revealed complex polychords. Street Life concluded the set (she recorded this with its composer Joe Sample) and revealed her as a singers' singer- all the vocalists in the audience sang complex scat phrases back to her with real skill!
Lalah live is a remarkable presence- musical, jazzy, soulful, serene, funny, and that voice......