Janis Siegel

Camelot Lounge, July 6 

Janis Siegel resThere are two Janis Siegels. One sings with the super-slick vocal group Manhattan Transfer and the other is a super-sophisticated jazz singer. Usually it is the first Siegel who comes to Australia, filling venues like the Opera House Concert Hall. This was the jazz singer Siegel’s debut visit, and her skills could be closely scrutinised in the intimacy of Camelot, as could those of her collaborators: pianist John di Martino and bassist Boris Kozlov (who was last here driving the Mingus Big Band at the Opera House).

Siegel wasted no time showing she is a risk-taker and a singer who has carved a unique niche. She may not deal in what Charles Lloyd would call “heart-shocks”, but she does blend a charming playfulness with immensely sophisticated musicality, and distil them through a silvery, flexible and mostly accurate voice.

Some of her finest work came on the Billy Strayhorn ballad Lotus Blossom, where she eschewed thick sentiment, instead letting the words dance improbably lightly on the melody. She unleashed a phenomenal level of virtuosity on Jon Hendrick’s vocalese version of Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, hitting notes so high and infinitesimal that they were like squeaks from a frightened mouse, and then she tore through syllable-crowded lines with machinegun rapidity and precision.

You Don’t Know What Love Is was sung against just the bass, and Kozlov’s playing was so extraordinary it seemed one’s brain cells were being rearranged to accommodate new information. Yet Siegel was right there, scatting with verve and interacting with him at the highest level.

Di Martino was at his best colouring the poetic rigour of the otherworldly Fred Hersch/Norma Winstone composition Stars, and elsewhere he displayed a native sense for the exact level of understatement that Siegel required.

The material stretched from Randy Newman to Stephen Sondheim and Maurice Ravel to Richard Rodgers. Siegel expanded the sound palette further with five local guests, including flautist Jane Rutter and guitarist Clive Lendich.