Halfway into Beata Pater’s April 2, 2013 album Red, you notice she isn’t singing. She’s doing a kind of wordless scat, wrapping her vocal instrument around a dizzying array of dance beats from all over the globe.
That’s the way the Polish Red vocalist/violinist/composer prefers to play music, a little off the grid. She’s always grooved differently, since launching her career in Japan on a CBS/Sony contract doing session work, and a whole lot more. After quite a number of interesting gigs with interesting musicians (pianists Walter Bishop Jr. and Donny Schwekendier, drummer Jimmy Smith, bassist Buca Necak) in Asia and Manhattan’s Birdland, Pater discovered the improvisational wonders of straight-ahead jazz.
Pater — who settled in the Bay area — loves to break down standards to reinvent atypical covers. That’s what she did with her longtime bassist Necak from Japan in her second jazz album, “Duet .” When New York suffered a blackout in 2003, Pater continued recording with Oda Yuichiro on a pop album, the old-fashioned way — by candlelight and on a tape recorder. Hence, “Blackout.” Pater’s debut, 1993 solo album, “Session,” hinted at the highly inventive musical color series to come. “It’s not that bad considering that it was half recorded in a club and half in a recording studio. The best performance we did was ‘Whisper Not,’ a duet I did with Bootza [Necak].”
Starting with “Black” in 2006 and continuing through “Green,” Pater’s color series contains the best of her attempt to embrace world music with a jazz-dance beat, also known in some circles as electric jazz. In Red, the third in the series, Pater throws in samples reminiscent of the funk intros of TLC and Janet Jackson’s sexy thrillers (“Tragic Beauty”) with Latin juxtaposition (the immensely popular, “Red Clay”).
Red also favors Pater’s original songs (some with keyboardist Mark Little) over mainstream standards, although there are certainly more than enough covers in there from her favorite influences — Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly,” Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” Marek Balata’s “Bachnova.”
Her covers are killer. She smartly puts Hancock’s funky flier at the top of the setlist, amplifying the club beats with her angular, almost mechanical, vocal instrument, beating up against a ferocious advancing rhythm section slamming a rainstorm of keys (Mark Little), bass (Aaron Germain), percussion (Raul Ramirez/Ranzel Merritt), and horns (saxophonist Darius Babazadeh).
“BachNova” traces a Jobim era, light as a feather — slowing the pace considerably. Pater’s wordless vocals, on an upper, more feminine register, mimic a warm Brazilian breeze with just enough bottom to give it a glassy effect. Guitarist Celia Malheiros and flutist Darius Babazadeh float underneath, musical starfish.
“Red Clay” continues the Latin number, but in a rollicking, uptempo blast, as Pater blends her vocal instrument — like a trumpet — with the rest of the band, trading sessions with saxophonist Babazadeh and the percussion section of Ramirez and Merritt, while riding alongside the melody-making keys of Little. Her whoops and levels add to the dance club vibe. Besides trading licks, Pater’s also playing violin on this and a number of other tracks.
Pater and Little collaborated on “Sir Doug Of Edwards,” bringing in hip-hop, European club style to her vocalizing as the band tracks her throwdown. Aaron Germain counters in turn with his own bump city language. And wait! Words in a broadcast recorded format by Doug Edwards, putting the piece in a kind of underground rave.
Another Pater/Little collaboration, “Big Red,” features the vocalist’s enormous dynamics. She manages to sing as if her voice is a powerful brass instrument, a supplemental vitamin to the groovalicious guitar and keys.
What’s clear throughout Red is the unwavering quality of Beata Pater’s shiny metallic tone as she changes pitch, pace, and key from song to song, whether it’s soft or fast, easy or hard. She can switch from ethereal to monstrously earthly, and trade riffs as easily as a bass to drums. At times, okay “Praise,” the wordless vocalizing can get to be a bit much, but overall, not a bad idea — one she can clearly pull off.