REVIEW: Kai Hoffman at the Met Room in New York

Kai Hoffman at the Metropolitan Room, New York City
with Tedd Firth, piano, Tom Hubbard, bass, Daniel Glass, drums.
Photo credit: Fred Cohen
Kai Hoffman
(Metropolitan Room November 23rd, Review by Gordon Beeferman)

When Kai Hoffman sauntered onstage at New York City's Metropolitan Room on November 23, the audience could tell it wasn't going to be just any dull Sunday afternoon jazz. Hoffman is an immensely appealing performer whose sass, humor and style is matched by serious musicianship and incredible energy. In one set, she covered a real expressive range, from the up-tempo flirty sexiness of Some Boys to the intimate nostalgia of Time in a Bottle, Jim Croce's 1973 folk-rock hit.

Hoffman mostly sings in a rich, dusky contralto, but occasionally gives a taste of powerful high notes that are every bit as clear and dead-on in-tune. Her diverse set list allowed her to show her command of a broad swath of styles, with songs from the cabaret repertoire (Dave Frishberg and Blossom Dearie's Long Daddy Green), musical theatre (Kirsty MacColl's In These Shoes), blues (Let the Good Times Roll) and fast swing (It Don't Mean A Thing).

One particular highlight for this writer was Hoffman's version of There's No Business Like Show Business, done as a ballad in 3/4. Seated on a stool, Hoffman straightforwardly and vulnerably brought out the pathos of Irving Berlin's classic song: the real challenges and pain of the performing artist's life, and the sacrificies such a life entails. This was the real emotional centerpiece of the show, the pentultimate number, and Hoffman didn't disappoint; her interpretation was well-paced, building to a powerful climax, and never lapsed into weepy torch-song sentimentality. But overall, Hoffman's set was an enormous amount of fun: a charming emcee, her repartee was quick and never lagged; in the fast numbers she had audience members dancing with her in the aisles.

Hoffman was backed up by a terrific trio of NYC musicians. Pianist Tedd Firth was a standout, and it was a pleasure to watch him gradually overcome the weary NYC working musician's ennui and become infected by Hoffman's energy and vivaciousness, matching her strong scat-singing with virtuosic and well-crafted solos.

A native of Massachusetts, Hoffman left for Europe in 1997, and this was her long-awaited debut performance in her native country. Here's hoping that this lighthearted, lovely and extremely talented performer will be back to entertain and enlighten American audiences again and again.

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