Monday, July 12, 2010

Jazz as Reinvention: Kendra Shank at the Artists Quarter

© Andrea Canter

There may be no agreement on the definition of “jazz” beyond the concepts of collaboration and improvisation—even “swing” in the modern era seems to defy definition. What does seem to pervade all discussions of jazz is the notion of reinvention—taking a melody and altering the rhythms or harmonies or scales to reinvent the tune, or more overtly inventing a new melody and then making further alterations. The music of vocalist Kendra Shank is all about reinventing—recomposing, reharmonizing, revisiting lyrics. Her life, as well, has been a sequence of reinventions—from visual artist to folk singer to jazz singer. And no matter how many times she gives us “Blue Skies” or “Throw It Away” or “Beautiful Love,” she reinvents the song.

In her weekend gig at the Artists Quarter, we witnessed the magic of ongoing creation, of a free spirit open to fellow travelers in that artistic space we call jazz. And for her AQ debut (she has been at the Dakota twice in the past decade), she was reunited with bassist Terry Burns and drummer Phil Hey, her supports at the first Dakota gig in about 2001, and introduced to a very simpatico pianist, Bryan Nichols. This might have been the first time these three Twin Cities artists shared the stage, and hopefully there’s more to come—and even better, a reunion of the full quartet. All versatile inventors, perhaps the novelty of this first collaboration inspired individual as well as collective performance. I’ve observed few bands, and certainly very few “new” bands, with broader smiles.

Kendra has described her approach to music as “sound painting”: She brings a broad palette of colors to each new canvas, merging with the palettes of her collaborators to create more colors, more textures and new brushstrokes, such that each “painting” is a new and spontaneous work no matter how many times she starts with that same paint set. And with her endless variations of color she literally brings a new language that expands a song’s lyrics—not simply the repetition of syllables of scat, not only the instrumental patterns of vocalese, but combinations of near-words with their own rhythm and syntax that somehow convey meaning at an emotional level that English fails to adequately translate.

[Full review posted at ]

Photos: Kendra Shank at the Artists Quarter, July 9th. (Photos by Andrea Canter)