Rachel Z / Kenny Garrett

Last night I went to Ronny Scott's Jazz Club in Soho, London, to see Kenny Garrett. I've seen Kenny on a number of occassions, and while I don't always love his song selection, he's a first-rate player, who has an amazing band (I think his drummer is possibly the best to come along since the 60s). Ronny Scott's is a first rate club (and home to one of my favorite live Wes Montgomery recordings) which makes it all the more puzzling why anyone should be subjected to an opening act as amateurish and downright terrible as the one I witnessed, lead by pianist and singer Rachel Z. I'm not used to seeing opening acts at jazz clubs, and prefer to see two sets by the headliner, however, to see two of Kenny's sets you would have to sit through two of Racehl Z's. She opened with a cover of the Beatle's "Here Comes the Sun" which I hope wasn't an overture to the London audience (for the record, I'm from NY) because it was almost unrecognizable as a cover, had a horrible time signature with a really murky vamp that is the complete opposite in feel of a song like "Here comes the sun". The band lacked any real synergy, and the individual players were tolerable at best. The drummer was playing entirely too loud, made too much use of his ride cymbal, and seemed to be playing with a different band. The bass player was playing an electric upright with a hand mic, which totally distorted any of the lower register notes, and was so quiet that it was almost impossible to hear (all this after the band leader praised the soudman for being so great all week! I was sitting dead center so it shouldn't have been a positional problem). The band-leader, Rachel Z was capable enough at the Piano, if a little too noodly in her solos (and not able to sustain some of the breakneck rhythms of the over-zealous drummer) but it's her voice that was really objectionable. I have never, and I truly mean never, heard such a totally out of key, over-styled, over-dramatic, unimpressive singer in a club of Ronny Scott's calibre in my life! I'm not sure I've heard a voice so markedly terrible ever, outside of the rejects from American Idol or something (which, for the record I've seen a total of twice). After playing a couple of somewhat straightforward tunes (there was a totally unecessary "interpretation" of autumn leaves with a 5 minute bass solo that could have induced suicide) Rachel decided to sing for not one, but I think two songs, which had nothing redeeming to them whatsover. The lyrics were totally cliched and the melodies were about as "jazz" as michael bolton. She also chatted up her composition called "artemisia" saying it was named after an artist you can see in the florence uffizzi who's not that well known but hangs next to michael angelo. Now maybe this is nit-picking, but first off, she should at least have mentioned the artists last name if she was going to talk about her for like 5 minutes (it's Gentileschi) and secondly, you can see her work at the National Gallery in Trafalger Square, about a 5 min. walk from Ronny Scott's. I just love that she assumes the audience wouldn't know what artist she was talking about, even though Europeans seem to be on the whole more knowledgable about Old Master Painting.

Okay, so obviously she's not my cup of tea.

I though Kenny would redeem the evening (I didn't pay btw, which I feel obliged to say). Kenny opened up with a totally crazy, great number where everyone in the band was featured in a truly great group of solos. It was such an energetic, frenetic, spontaneous number, however, that it was hard to follow up with anything comparable. It would have made a perfect closing number, and I know this was only the first set, but the songs afterwards were just out of character given the mood set by the opening number. There was a slightly funky number which was a little too "smooth" in my opinion, then 3 asian folk numbers done without breaks which featured just the pianist and kenny on soprano. They were rather boring and entirely too long. I love slow pieces. I love eastern music. This was just too much of a lull after the crazy opening piece and the funk piece. The last number was called "happy people" and should probably have opened the set. It was upbeat, but left room for improvement. Kenny appeared to spend half the song soliciting audience appreciation by gesturing them to clap for him (as applause, not as rhythmic claps) which just got annoying (we came there to hear him play, not to inflate his ego). I know the song was supposed to have an audience participation feel, but unfortunately it just seemed like he was begging for love.

So I don't know what purpose this serves but to vent my anger at having my evening wasted. I've always enjoyed Ronny Scott's, and I've seen a couple of great Kenny Garrett shows. Needless to say the prospect of seeing Rachel Z for a second set scared me away from even attempting to see Kenny's second performance. How any club could book an act like Rachel Z is beyond me, let alone why Kenny would want her opening for him.

Anyone else had the misfortune of seeing Rachel Z?