April 2007

Nnenna Freelon
April 28, 2007 The Rose Theatre Brampton
A Flower Blooms in Brampton
by Paul J. Youngman
The Rose Theatre, Brampton’s newest, is an intimate theatre where the balconies are still in the range of the performers, no binoculars required. This is it’s inaugural season. The main theatre holds 880 people, and for this evening’s performance quite a few of the seats are still available. The theatre is only a half-hour by express routes from the major metropolis of Toronto. The show was not publicized to any great degree, I was informed about the show through Ms. Freelon’s web site. The majority of the patrons were local, and the audience was of an older demographic.

My seats, selected for me through The Rose Theatre web site, were on the first level balcony. That put me just slightly above the stage, eye level with Ms. Freelon. The angle of the seats and the stage setup gave me a good view of Ms. Freelon while she was positioned at centre stage, as well as the drummer and percussionist, but I could not see the rest of the band . The City of Brampton manages the theatre and sells the tickets directly. The web site does not allow you to view a layout of the theatre. They best improve upon this if they wish to keep customers happy.

The layout is similar to that of many small theatres. The acoustics in the theatre were good, especially for an acoustic group such as the one backing Ms. Freelon — piano, acoustic bass, drums and percussion. On piano was Brandon McCune, Wayne Batchelor held the bottom end on bass with long time Freelon associate, drummer Kinah Boto. Percussionist Beverly Botsford provided an orchestral percussion section. The band played a supporting role. There were very few instrumental breaks, a couple of elegant piano breaks, a thoughtful swinging funk bass break and a percussion break — which was by far the most exciting instrumental moment of the evening.

Nnenna Freelon is touring in support of her 2005-released album, Blueprint of a Lady – Sketches of Billie Holiday on the Concord label. Ms. Freelon is a passionate vocalist, producing equal amounts of emotion and spiritual energy. She radiates a beauty that is warm and captivating. Add to this a voice of equal warmth and beauty in a style somewhat reminiscent of a Sarah Vaughan or even an Abbey Lincoln and you have an award winning, sophisticated audio-visual delight of easy-listening musical ecstasy.

Ms. Freelon’s pianist led the group melodically, Freelon gave credit for the arrangements to the entire group, the drums and percussion added texture to the songs. The drummer used a delicate technique, snare drum, two floor toms and a bass drum as well as two cymbals and hi-hat, producing a supportive rhythm that was always there for Ms. Freelon. The percussionist, Botsford, took the listener on a journey to other lands, with Brazilian percussion effects and a Flamenco castanet performance — along with wonderful conga and bongo playing.

Overall, it was Ms. Freelon who captivated. She sang with clarity — crystalline and pure; she spoke with lyrical phrasing, she danced and entertained. She provided the audience with two fluid, smooth and emotionally charged sets, performing many Billie Holiday compositions or songs recognized as Lady Day classic — a Latin-flavored “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”, “All of Me”, “Balm in Gilead”, “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, “Don’t Explain”, and a funky version of “Willow Weep For Me”. The second set was more exciting than the first. For me the highlight moment was a fantastic interpretation of “Strange Fruit”.

The audience applauded Ms. Freelon enthusiastically on completion of the final song, calling the group back to the stage. Ms. Freelon responded with “Thank you for believing that we know one more song.” The encore song was a delight, written for her daughter’s upcoming wedding, she confessed the song was so new, she had yet to commit the lyrics to memory. The lyrics placed before her on a makeshift stand, Ms. Freelon proceeded to sing a heart wrenching song that had many in the audience wiping their eyes.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Paul J. Youngman
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