Few musicians in town could pull off what Kate Lamont did Friday night at The Jazz Kitchen when she moved from a jazz to a rock setting within the course of two hours, doing justice to both.
It's been done before, to be sure: Tim Brickley moonlights as a big band leader when he's not playing or recording straight-ahead rock, and Mina Keohane is re-inventing herself as a singer-songwriter after making her name locally as a jazz pianist. Even Rob Dixon has a taste for jam bands.
But within a single night? And even Lamont wasn't as good a hitter from both sides of the plate; she was more comfortable and in control when she played her own material with rock instrumentation (the night's second set), than during her opening, jazz-only set with a piano, bass and drums trio.
But she impressed in both settings, nonetheless, powered by her versatile voice, which remained clean, bright and unpretentious, and musicians sensitive to the different sides of her work. She worked with a different bassist and drummer for each set, and joked towards the end of the night that she was pleased to see such a good crowd, because it would help her pay off her collaborators.
Lamont drew material from the soul-jazz album Cannonball Adderley/Nancy Wilson (an album itself made up of standards) for her first set, performing with pianist Bob Wilson, bassist Fred Withrow and drummer Sam Withrow, as well as the saxophonist Jared Thompson, who blew a few choruses on several songs.
One song she performed that wasn't from that album, Joni Mitchell's vocalese tune "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," was probably the rockiest of the night, testing Lamont's range and maybe a bit ambitious for the first few minutes of her first jazz set. But, at least to my ears, it was a relief to hear that Lamont didn't change her vocal style to fit a jazz setting, which meant that the performance was free of the kind of cliched embellishments - the worst of which being, of course, the dreaded scat feature - that tend to make listening to jazz vocalists, particularly non-professionals, kind of a drag.
And once she hit her stride - encouraged by a more than competent band and Thompson's solos which helped spike up the energy of the set - it became a lot more fun to listen and watch, with Lamont smiling through the numbers, sparkling in a red sequined dress. Highlights included "Happy Talk" (a freewheeling Lamont and lively Thompson matching moods) and an original probably titled "Raining in the Snow" that was nicely understated and forlorn and which prompted sensitive, lyrical solos by Wilson and Fred Withrow.
After a wardrobe change (from red to black) and the substitution of a new band (including a switchout of electric for acoustic bass), Lamont was back on the stage to perform work from her new album, After the Traffic, as well as some material by Mab Lab, the "trip-hop" band launched around the turn of the century and still keeping on (with a new release this year, the New Year's Revolution EP).
While the simplicity of her new album - with songs often populated only by voice, piano and organ bass pedals - has a certain appeal, the songs really take shape and flight in a live setting, with a more consistent backbeat and a bit more dynamic range. Lamont's lyrics are conversational and straight-forward to a fault, and don't seem to match the vibrancy and originality of her music, but they also tend to work better in a live setting, where they don't demand as much concentration as on record and are enhanced by Lamont's improvised flourishes and, more generally, her entrancing, peaceful presence.
Two backup singers filled out the best numbers of the night: "I Owed You a Letter" from After the Traffic, which is the most soulful number from her new bunch, and Mab Lab's "God's Breath," which emphasizes our common African ancestry, regardless of color.
"God's Breath" hinted at the rather deep catalog from which she can draw; no need to play stuff from Blueprintmusic when she's got solo work, new and old stuff from Mab Lab, and even songs written for theater pieces by the Recollective Company, one of which she performed on grand piano Friday night.