The hamburger is not good, the overflow crowd of tourists from Ellen’s Stardust Diner upstairs creates precisely the wrong vibe and the amplification seems excessive. But there’s a fantastic time to be had with the sweet combination of Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen, now playing at the Iridium Jazz Club.
She’s a blow-’em-away Broadway musical star who turns out to be a sophisticated and subtle musical artist. He’s a well-regarded songwriter with a charming, understated stage style. Together, they’re simultaneously adorable and smart. They delve bravely into challenging material.
At the moment, most of the material is from “One Ounce of Truth,” the name of both their Iridium gig and a new CD.
Rosen, the composer, uses the poems of Nikki Giovanni as a starting point. This sounds esoteric, even coming from a songwriter who has borrowed from Langston Hughes; but Rosen’s creations are moving and melodic. Putting Giovanni to music actually works. Especially with the fine musicians accompanying Jenkins and Rosen.
That’s true whether the poem/song is a funny evocation of a woman in crazy-love (“I Wrote a Good Omelet”) or a passionate celebration of African-American-and African-music (“The Black Loom”). Rosen takes us on a tour of more personal territory, too, accompanying himself on the piano for a number from an earlier CD, “South Side Stories,” which powerfully recalls his deep family connection to the Chicago neighborhood where he grew up. The flip, funny side of that passion for his hometown came when Rosen mentioned several times his affection for a certain Illinois Senator who is also raising a family on the South Side.
If Rosen is laid back, Jenkins is center stage. She deserves to be. She has great range, both in terms of music and expression. It’s fun when she belts, but here she’s proving herself a fine jazz interpreter, effective in both her enunciation and her phrasing, all without losing her girlish appeal. When an audience member shouts out that she’s hot, and she is, Jenkins takes it in. “I’m hot? I like that,” she says.
Together, Jenkins and Rosen are both hot-but also cool. They have a warm presence that draws an audience in, but they also have staying power and a willingness to take creative risks. They’re rich in talent. They’re upbeat, but also deep.
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