[JPL] Jazz Without Borders, and Coated in Blues

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Oct 27 16:50:22 EDT 2006

October 26, 2006
Music Review | 'Paula West'
Jazz Without Borders, and Coated in Blues 
“How does it feel?” The tone in which those four words
are delivered is a critical factor in determining the
psychic damage wrought by Bob Dylan’s musical missile,
“Like a Rolling Stone.” When the jazz singer Paula
West sang them at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel
on Tuesday evening, she underplayed the composer’s
crowing sarcasm and the song emerged in a softer

Yes, “Like a Rolling Stone” will always be a hipster’s
savagely gleeful portrait of a privileged princess’s
downfall. But as Ms. West asked how it felt in a
quiet, urgent voice, empathy overcame contempt; there
but for the grace of God. 

Ms. West’s affinity for Bob Dylan, whose songs she
regularly puts into her shows, recalls the passion for
his music expressed by Nina Simone, another black
female singer who went even farther in personalizing
his lyrics. Like Ms. Simone and like Cassandra Wilson,
who also goes any musical place that suits her, Ms.
West refuses to be bound by categories. 

Her new show, which plays through Nov. 11, casts the
widest net, so far. “Like a Rolling Stone” is
sandwiched between “Bewitched, Bothered and
Bewildered” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” in a set
that includes “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” from
“The New Moon,” arranged as a sultry bolero, and a
pop-jazz “Loch Lomond” sung back to back with “Danny
Boy.” Behind her, the George Mesterhazy quartet
stretches with her from Scotland to Nashville.

To everything she sings, Ms. West brings an
ever-deepening feel for the blues. Her voice, though
reminiscent of both Ms. Simone’s and Ms. Wilson’s, has
a thicker caramel coating. This sound was the focus of
an attenuated version of that archetypal torch song,
“Why Was I Born?,” in which she lingered over the
words at the ends of phrases as though the answers to
the song’s metaphysical questions lay buried in the
texture of her own voice. 

For all her stylistic wanderings, Ms. West always
returns to home base, a place where blues and jazz
songs are inflected with a sly, humorous appreciation
of the absurd and the naughty. She turned Leonard
Feather’s breezy “Man Wanted,” a desperate woman’s
humorous personal ad for a man “young or old, fat or
lean, hot or cold, kind or mean” into a
tongue-in-cheek frolic. 

Finally came her signature song, “The Snake,” Oscar
Brown Jr.’s urban folk tale about a woman’s fatal
attraction to a poisonous reptile who hustles her;
this bit of caramel dosed with arsenic made a tasty

Paula West performs through Nov. 11 at the Oak Room of
the Algonquin, 59 West 44th Street; (212) 419-9331.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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