Rene Marie is one of the most creative artists you probably don't know, and this album proves the point.
Recorded live at the Jazz Standard in New York City and released in 2003, Ms. Marie drives her trio--John Toomey (p), Elias Bailey (b) and Howard Curtis (d)--to artistic heights worthy of Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette, or any other piano trio you wish to name. And the four of them together create some really fascinating art.
Consider the album's highlight, a medley of Ravel's "Bolero" and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne". "Huh? Did I read that right?" you ask. You did. But when you consider the 6/8 march drumbeat to "Bolero" and think about elongating any song to fit that beat, you can picture how Ms. Marie and her mates did that. But the point is: who before Ms. Marie would have even thought to try something like that?
Or consider her cover of the old Rodgers & Hart chestnut, "Where or When." Mr. Curtis taps out a rhythm on the high hat that puts a dream-like quality on the piece. "Where or When" works as a dream-like fog. Why didn't someone think of that before?
Or consider her original, "Paris on Ponce." This is a "Hernando's Hideaway"-style tango with witty, hilarious lyrics by Ms. Marie about Paree, of the kind you'd expect to hear Robert Preston sing from "Victor-Victoria." The bridge is noteworthy for some wild bowing by Mr. Bailey. Then, out of nowhere, the band shifts the tune into a hard 4/4 rhumba with Ms. Marie intoning "funky tango" throughout. (But, one might argue, isn't a rhumba really a funky tango, anyway?!)
She does a similar "out of nowhere" shift to "A Foggy Day", which goes from well-done lounge music to a double-time scat that would have made Mel Torme sit up and take notice.
And lest anyone doubt Ms. Marie's abilities as a singer, take a good listen to her recital-like read of "I Loves You Porgy." This is as dramatic a cover of this classic as any I've heard, including that of the immortal Ella Fitzgerald.
And to put her imprimatur on the whole concert, she does an a capella encore to one of her signature songs, "How Can I Keep for Singing." That's remarkable enough; but she takes the song from a straight read, to a scat, to a slow scat, to a rendition of Belafonte's "Day-O" in a language only she knows but we all understand.
Maxjazz is a small label that doesn't have the budget to put Rene Marie into the public vanguard, a la Blue Note, Impulse! or Verve. But I believe that, sooner or later, talent wins out. On that basis, Rene Marie deserves widespread recognition as one of the most creative of all jazz vocalists, and someday soon she has to get it. RC