Picks and Pans Review: Live!
She may have toned down her skyscraper beehives, her drag-queen-from-Mars glad rags and the vocal pyrotechnics that helped launch a thousand bad Star Search contestants, hut Patti LaBelle is still a Diva with a capital D. Unlike other big-voiced female vocalists, she’s right at home with straight-off-the-street beats. LaBelle’s husky vocal largesse makes her current new-jackish single, “All Right Now,” one of two studio tracks on Live, sizzle. Yet the 1991 Grammy winner is equally at ease in a poignant rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” which she dedicates to her sister Jackie, who died of breast cancer in 1990, and to other departed of friends.
Recorded at Harlem’s venerable Apollo Theater last year, the 12 cuts range from “Lady Marmalade,” from LaBelle’s early days with the groundbreaking ’70s glam-soul trio LaBelle, to “New Attitude,” her 1985 Top 40 hit and last year’s smoking “Feel Like Another One.”
There’s a fierce undercurrent, a dynamic oomph, to even the sweetest of LaBelle’s songs. That dynamism has often been her undoing. Here, less histrionic but no less passionate or commanding, LaBelle delivers a wonderful live experience. (MCA)
GENE HARRIS AT MAYBECK
One of the churchiest pianists in jazz—he turns the keyboard into an altar for preaching the blues and rocking the pews—Harris, 59, reveals further facets of his talent in this superb recital, No. 23 in Concord’s series of solo piano albums recorded live at Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley, Calif. Matching his potent rhythmic drive with a rare melodic delicacy and an expansive sense of structure, Harris spins seven standards and three originals into absorbing journeys. His nearly stationary “My Funny Valentine” is a revelation. It unfolds like a flower, perfume rising from each note. (Concord)