Ruthie Foster Big Band – Live at the Paramount
I recently saw the colorful 1958 film Jazz on a Summer’s Day because it’s that cool. Anita O’Day — stunning, Dinah Washington & Mahalia Jackson both stirring. Yet, it’s sad. Many are gone. But I realized God replaced these vocalists with special equally compelling children. Maybe not as innovative but certainly talented.
There’s the late Teaneck, NJ’s 4-octave Phoebe Snow, Roberta Flack, Madeleine Peyroux, Diana Krall & Texas’ own Ruthie Foster.
Armed with a 3-octave range on her 9th LP Live at the Paramount, (at the 105-year old Austin Paramount Theater Jan. 26th, 2019 – drops May 15 – Blue Corn Music). The set features an incendiary big band-swing music.
Ms. Foster, 3-time Grammy nominee, spotlights arrangements by Miles Davis alum John Beasley & bandleader John Miller. The charts are all well-planned & well-recorded. The show has 10 horn players, a guitarist, keyboardist, bass, drums & 3-backing vocalists who dazzle throughout.
Criticism? Ruthie Foster needs to enter on fire with the first song. “Brand New Day,” is a good tune but not an opening tune. The 2nd song doesn’t help despite a good performance. Standard 60s soulfulness. Martha Reeves, & Roberta Flack intonation but the pipes of a Ruthie Foster needs to get out of the gate kick-ass fast & she does have the tunes.
“Ring of Fire,” isn’t Johnny Cash but a great reinterpretation. She reinvents it with the whole of her vocal range. Musical artistry.
Ruthie has good between-song patter. “Stone Love,” opens with Jeff Helmer’s piano & then the big band goes full throttle. Ruthie’s tone is high temperature dynamic. This would’ve been a good opening for her. The piano could’ve started before she appears. Then, the blare of the brass would signal her entrance. Oh, they’d have to vamp a little until the applause died down, but it’s fiery & exciting. An ear-grabber. This is Nina Simone, & blues singer Karen Lawrence (“Once Again,” “Bring It Home”) territory.
“Death Came a Knockin’ (Travelin’ Shoes”) is spiritual with delicious horns shot through the melody. Reminiscent of the sheer blast of Arthur Connelly’s “Sweet Soul Music,” & the Bar-Kays “Soul Finger.” From soul to hot big band “Runaway Soul,” strides smooth at first with blaring saxes. This too could be an opening song. So tight you can’t push a razor blade between the notes. Joey Colarusso’s tenor sax solo bristles, the band’s full-throttle & Ruthie’s so good I’d wager Janis Joplin & her friend Bessie Smith, are smiling. It has showmanship energy that Otis Redding ignited on his Live in Europe version of “I Can’t Turn You Loose.”
The set is diverse with no bad apples: Dixieland (“Joy Comes Back,” with spine-chilling growls. There are some high-pitched Minnie Ripperton notes & an energetic trombone solo). An exuberant Phoebe Snow-like vocal soars & captivates “Phenomenal Woman,” a beautiful song by Ms. Foster.
Available at Apple Music the 14-track, 1-hour set was produced by Denby Auble.