Vocalist Rene Marie opens her second Maxjazz album, Vertigo, with two songs that by now ought to elicit a unanimous shrug from a jazz audience: "Them There Eyes" was a frothy novelty when Louis Armstrong first recorded it in 1931; by the time Billie Holiday resurrected it in 1939, it already needed a dose of her gimlet detachment to work. And though "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," from the 1943 musical Oklahoma!, has tempted a fair number of instrumentalists to dash through its attractive chord structure at steeplechase tempos, its lyrics--about a fancy horse-drawn carriage--tend to discourage serious vocal treatments. Yet Marie fully justifies her faith in both these chestnuts: she tackles "Eyes" like a horn player, using it as a vehicle for some terrific scat work, and slows "Surrey" to a sultry crawl, making lines like "Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry" and "The dashboard's genuine leather" sound improbably sexy. The success of her interpretations arises in part from the intimacy of her style--even when she opens up her sunny, translucent voice full throttle, she sounds like she's singing from across a living room, not trying to fill an auditorium to the rafters. But Marie also owes some of her artistic authority to basic maturity: now 45, she's recently returned to the music profession after leaving it at 18 to start a family (she says she used to study Ella Fitzgerald's records after putting her two sons to bed). Her voice sits somewhere between womanly desire and the girlish delight that characterized Ella even in old age; at times her delivery calls to mind the sweet sass of Nnenna Freelon, a contemporary of Marie's who's followed a similar career path. The sass comes through strongest on Marie's own compositions, three of which appear on Vertigo--including the title track, a voodoo-rhythm rave-up about letting go in love, and "Don't Look at Me Like That," which treats the same subject with considerably more circumspection. Then she turns around and redeems another threadbare standard, torching her way through "I Only Have Eyes for You" with enough real, slow fire to show Diana Krall fans what they've been missing. Friday, November 9, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jimmy Katz.