Bluesy jazz: Frigid art with heart

The Dinah Pearson Band
at West Main
July 17

Friday was my second evening watching shows at West Main, and I haven't quite figured the place out yet. They have been promoting shows for live music on the weekends recently, but because of the venue's architectural design, it's hard for more than 20 people to actually see the band.

The downstairs bar, where shows are held, is divided into an adult playroom (containing a pool table and a video game titled something like "Buck Hunter") and a stage/table area. If you're there for a show and arrive later than 15 minutes before the start time, chances seem to be that because of space, you'll be stuck in the playroom, seated at one of the high tables without a direct view.

I was stuck watching the Dinah Pearson Band from a 90-degree angle last weekend, which, if I didn't know better, would have left me with the impression that the lead guitarist, farthest away from me, was a foot tall. (But thanks to the Renaissance, I was not fooled.)

The Dinah Pearson Band plays a version of jazz best described as "icicle jazz"– instead of Janis Joplin's fire-in-the-belly primal screams, Pearson keeps everything on the D.L., only raising her voice when it's truly necessary. The group's stage layout– biggest to smallest– consists of a sax player, a bassist, Pearson, a rhythm guitarist, and a lead guitarist playing a glowing white Strat (or my eyes were fooling me).

Demonstrating an admirable talent for starting promptly, the group played its first number shortly after 10, with the rhythm guitarist singing, as Pearson waited in the wings. The group had an unexpectedly sparse sound for a group with so many musicians, but this proved to be a good thing– each performer knew when to play his instrument and when to shut up, something not terribly common these days. Even the sax player took it easy on me (a confirmed sax anti-lover): Instead of blaring runs, he provided subtle background notes, barely audible over the other players.

On song two, Pearson made her entrance, and the group picked up the tempo. A walking bass line led the song down its bluesy road, in the verse/guitar solo/verse/sax solo sequence. The echo on Pearson's vocals, whether natural or artificial, did not allow me to hear lyrics until song five, and then all I got was, "It's been a long time baby..." a not particularly insightful revelation.

A slower blues progression number was next, propelled by its exquisite walking bass line and hole-heavy guitar solo. A little touch of Zydeco spiced up the next tune, which switched to straight 4/4 blues during the chorus, making for an interesting and catchy number.

The Dinah Pearson Band– frigid art with heart.

The Dinah Pearson Band