Review: Kellylee Evans at Chocolate Church

Posted Wednesday, June 8, 2011 in Culture

Review: Kellylee Evans at Chocolate Church

Kellylee Evans

by Michael Kelly

BATH -- Vocalist Kellylee Evans is FUN! It was love at first sight of her off-the-shoulder slinky black dress and coltish bare feet last Saturday night at the Chocolate Church. She was a gambol, a Parisian chanteuse from the golden age, a vital presence with a voice so alive and purely melodic, we were entranced. Her jazz was jazzier than jazz. It was jazz with seltzer. And she didn’t perform, she had a fling with us. We were her percussion, her choir, her lover and she adored us passionately, and then abandoned us so tenderly at the end of the evening, that we loved her anyway with standing ovation after standing ovation.

Evans is evolving a distinctive sound. You can hear it vividly in her newest release Nina; for which she won the 2011 Juno award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year. Nina is a beautiful tribute to one of jazz's greatest vocalists and pianists, Nina Simone. For Nina, the Canadian singer was approached by French label Plus Loin Music. They discovered her through her 2nd place win at the Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocals Competition. After several years of discussion, they invited her to France in November of 2009, where she spent two days in the studio. "They said I could do whatever I wanted as long as it was standards.  I had always wanted to do a Nina Simone tribute. She was one of my mom's favorites, and my husband's, and I love her too. So I chose her and they were really gung ho."

Evans' love and respect for the original recordings of Simone’s music shines through, but, even as she performs some of Nina's most iconic repertoire, Evan’s own versatility, creativity, and innate musicality radiate. She is joined by guitarist Marvin Sewell (Jason Moran, Cassandra Wilson), who appeared on her first album, and by bassist François Moutin (Moutin Reunion Quartet, Rudresh Mahanthappa), and drummer André Ceccarelli (Dee Dee Bridgewater, Biréli Lagrène).

Evan’s career took off with her critically acclaimed 2004 urban-jazz debut, Fight or Flight, which helped garner the Toronto native her Juno and Gemini award nominations in 2007 and a win for best female artist at the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards. Her second album, Good Girl was written and produced by Evans at Audio Valley Recording Studio in Perth, Ontario, with the help of engineer and co-producer Steve Foley and her trusty touring band since 2005.

"The song Good Girl is about not wanting to live up to anybody else's expectations. The whole album is about being true to yourself and the idea of trying to please everybody around you. It's just this desire to not be anybody's good girl."

From the reflective "Questioning My Path" about searching for one's identity, to the aforementioned inspirational groove "Good Girl", and playful eye-opener "Tonight" about not wanting to fall in love with someone, many of the songs on Good Girl focus on obsession of one kind or another; things big and small. "If I just look at simple things, like a month ago I didn't wear makeup and now I do every day. A few years ago I was told I was allergic to fragrances so I didn't use anything that was scented and now, everywhere I go, I'm looking for a perfect scent to wear…. And there are still people in my life who I haven’t seen in a while who are like, 'Oh Kellylee, you're eating meat. You were the biggest vegan!'"

Her first run of original songs - which ended up on Fight or Flight - was more jazz oriented simply because she was singing standards at the time with jazz musicians. "When I started writing my own stuff, I was always thinking that it wasn't jazz, but everybody thought it was, and when I looked for musicians to make Fight or Flight, everybody that I knew was in the jazz world, so it sounded like jazz."

Evans has toured North America and France opening for such luminaries as Tony Bennett, George Benson, Maceo Parker, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Chris Botti and Derek Trucks.

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