2 artists provide jazz all night

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Saturday proved a very long night of jazz, but those who attended obviously felt that it was time well spent.

The later of two shows featuring vocalist Nnenna (pronounced "Nee-na") Freelon and pianist Benny Green with their respective trios at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild's Jazz Hall started just after 9:30 p.m. and ended past midnight -- both acts were featured separately -- but the results were, if not overly spectacular, very solid and well-paced.

Mr. Green and his band went on first, with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (they are not related) romping through a number of Mr. Green's original compositions. The best of that lot was the pretty ballad "Priestess" and the fast swinger "Sonny Clark," a tribute to the pianist; however, I didn't think that the dissonant "Flying Saucer" worked so well.

In a bit of a surprise, they also delivered an elegant rendition of the Count Basie classic "Shiny Stockings," not a tune that you can change all that much without altering the context.

After intermission, Ms. Freelon came on with an ongoing tribute to singer-actress Lena Horne, who had briefly lived in Pittsburgh. Opening up a cappella with "Blue Skies," she used very few if any vocal tricks -- not that she needed them, because she enunciated every note with laser-beam precision. She also scatted her way through "Squeeze Me, But Don't Tease," in the process adding a line from "I'm in the Mood for Love."

Also surprisingly, her trio framed a number of Horne's material far differently than you might expect, with Billy Strayhorn's "Something to Live For" becoming a samba and "I Feel Pretty" with a dirty blues feel.

"Stormy Weather," arguably the song most associated with her, became a bit of a shuffle.

Ms. Freelon and company closed with "Moon River," done in 4/4 time and pianist Brandon McCue bringing the house down.


Rick Nowlin: rnowlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3871.


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