acoustic guitar Amali Premawardhana, bansuri flute Courtney Bryan, Camilla Celin, cello Todd Isler, Christian Ver Halen, imani uzuri, Japanese Shinobue flute, piano, sarod Jay Ghandi, The Blue Note, The Gypsy Diaries, world percussion Kaoru Watanabe
October 22, 2012, 8pm
Imani Uzuri, vocals
Christian Ver Halen, acoustic guitar
Amali Premawardhana, cello
Todd Isler, world percussion
Kaoru Watanabe, Japanese Shinobue flute
Camilla Celin, sarod
Jay Ghandi, bansuri flute
Courtney Bryan, piano
Although it’s that wonderful time of year when playoff baseball, pre-season basketball, and football intersect (Go, Bears), I went to the Blue Note in NYC recently and had the great pleasure of experiencing for the first time vocalist Imani Uzuri perform. In this age of digitally mediated “relationships,” Uzuri and I have become (fff’s) fast-facebook-friends—she digging my posts and me enamored enough of her “bliss” to download her latest CD The Gypsy Diaries (it’s so, sooooo beautiful, to quote one of her songs) and admire the colorful and robust pictures she playfully posts of the most luxurious meals one could imagine.
She begins the evening off-stage, her voice floating over the band’s soft yet salient mix of timbres, rhythms, and harmonic/melodic elements that are at once innovatively hybrid yet, at the same time, somehow familiar. The heterogeneous combination of instruments is gorgeous in and of themselves. But it’s the charismatic artistry of Uzuri that makes the soundscape cohere into a sonic logic that’s powerful, even epic, yet difficult to categorize. Her work seems to tap into other realms beyond the rational. It’s spiritual in the broadest sense.
Uzuri is gifted with a voice with three distinct pockets. Mostly she works the middle—a huge and supported sound with the clarity of the best belters in musical theater. It carries through the room with shimmers of overtones around all of its edges. She can also flip her voice into an unusually high range—almost coloratura—that she employs judiciously as a subtle design element in her vocal toolbox. And then the showstopper comes. The chant-like, open structures of her music compels her to work and re-work melodic lines to add interest to the songs’ cyclic qualities. The most compelling vocal technique at her disposal—and to my surprise—is a baritone sound that is so large it could overdrive the mic if it weren’t for her expert handling of the technology. I watched as eyes widened when this third voice emerged and then disappeared as quickly at various times during the set.
The joy of seeing this artist on stage was a thrill. And I thought she just dined like a queen. Imani Uzuri sings like one, too.