Melissa Walker: Live Last Night

Live Last Night

By Mike Joyce

Long before becoming a seasoned artist in her own right, vocalist Melissa Walker often frequented One Step Down and other Washington jazz clubs to listen to her favorite musicians. So it wasn't surprising to hear a tribute to the late Shirley Horn during Walker's homecoming concert at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Friday night.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

The salutes to Horn and Nina Simone, another obvious influence, underscored how much Walker appreciates a good lyric. Not that she isn't capable of winning over listeners on the strength of her voice alone. Her balladry was often capped by long, elegantly tapered tones, and when the tempo quickened, she scatted with harmonic assurance. Yet Walker is a storyteller at heart.

Her current repertoire, a smart blend of contemporary lyrics and jazz standards, often revealed the ease with which she can inhabit a song and set a narrative in motion. Whether it was something fresh ("In The Middle Of It All") or familiar ("Other Woman'), sunny ("Yesterdays") or soulful ("Forget Me"), Walker was careful to give each lyric its due.

The acoustic and occasionally funk-accented arrangements, tailored by drummer Clarence Penn and bassist Christian McBride, were neat yet colorful. McBride briefly contributed bowed lines, but it was the combination of his warm, resonant pulse and Penn's nimble accompaniments that distinguished most of the performance. Meanwhile, pianist Xavier Davis, who is also well versed in vintage electric keyboard grooves, and guitarist Adam Rogers, a fluid improviser, contributed solos and fills that complemented Walker's knowing interpretations.

By David Malitz |  September 28, 2009; 9:36 AM ET Live Last Night
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