Janette West Group Jazzes Up the Holidays, and Our Anniversary
A band who can pull off “Fever” and “Spain” in one gig is my kind of band.
The Janette West Group is one of the best around, featuring well-played, highly underrated musicians who’ve been around the block a time or two with quite a number of big headliners and serious jazz artists.
These experienced musicians are also seriously restless, and inventive jazz artists who aren’t content with lightly comping the same well-worn groove of the same well-worn standards. They don’t care about hogging the spotlight, or hyping up crowds, either.
They cater to the intimate, thoughtful, serious listener across pop, jazz, and blues genres, with a charming twist here and a jaw-dropping musical innuendo there, when you least expect it…most likely in between sips of tea and chowder, glancing out onto breathtaking Bellingham Bay, Washington.
My husband and I happened to be at the Hotel Bellwether on a recent Sunday, our 29th wedding anniversary, as a matter of fact. He booked the gig months in advance, and I’m starting a new magazine writing assignment with brand-new interviews starting tomorrow.
So, faced with very little time during the busy holiday season (did I mention he’s also preparing to go on tour with The Coats this week), we did what anyone would, we improvised. Dinner and a show, what could be better for a special anniversary?
With these quality musicians, nothing.
I’ve been to quite a few of vocalist West’s gigs, especially at the Bellwether. I love her warm, lush vocals, and the ability to hang onto the loveliest, deepest note — as if pulling a long-time friend into a long embrace, but to music.
She’s playful about her varied set list (Donny Osmond’s “Go Away Little Girl’s” on it, done slightly tongue-in-cheek to light jazz) and easygoing with her audience, comprised of regulars who seem to come every time she calls.
The musicians she chooses for her gigs are top-notch and as low-key boss as she is.
The bass player kicked off the show not with an instrumental, but a vocal of his own, “Fever.” Before I could beg off and run for the restroom — I loathe this come-hither song and the vamping instead of singing by Peggy Lee clones — Clark dove in.
Amazingly, he charged up the lyrics in a refreshing rock ‘n roll/blues growl that exuded attitude and tunefulness.
Whoa. He did the original Little Willie John version, as it was intended, a straightforward, bluesy rocker inviting everyone to come on and jam, rather than look away and cringe.
He turned me around. I love “Fever” now, but only if James Clark does it.
On Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone,” the band went instrumental, withdrawing into roomy rhythms held aloft on a loose high wire from drums to bass to piano. I could almost see a series of spinning threads connecting these three musicians as they danced on their tightrope, maneuvering in their own sweet time.
By the time the band wrapped up in three sets, they had just enough give for one more crowd-pleaser, one the Janette West Group does exceptionally well in a smooth, supple give-and-take of vocals and a culminating piano solo my husband excels at.
Every time I hear Chick Corea’s magnum opus, “Spain,” my piano man always plays his extended part differently, with shifting, changing moods and tempos. At one gig, he may parse out musical moments with exquisite, painful longing, conjuring images of ill-fated lovers and fateful goodbyes. At another, he’ll race and blaze through like a bull in a China shop.
This time, he blanketed “Spain,” with mini-orchestral explosions on a turbo-charged train of thought, geared toward a series of grand designs…Spain on a contact high, a sweeping soundtrack of action-adventure romance, recalcitrant memory for the best of times.
After the gig, the husband and I headed over to a nearby neighborhood find, Skylark’s Hidden Cafe (thanks, Google!), for house-made comfort food and a Chocolate Decadence Cake that almost tasted like the one we enjoyed 29 years ago at our wedding in Honolulu.