Singer/pianist Anna Winthrop defies categorization. Her Soundcloud page has a mix of lush art-rock, terse chamber pop and classical art-song, sometimes with just the hint of cabaret. Her tunes are translucent and catchy; she likes a steady beat and big anthemic crescendos, even if she’s not playing them in straight-up 4/4 much of the time. And she’s a fantastic singer. She’s at Caffe Vivaldi at 9:15 PM on March 31, playing a duo show with cellist Kirin McElwain, who’s also on the Soundcloud tracks.
Winthrop doesn’t waste any time going up into the midday sky with her arrestingly clear, stratospheric soprano on the first track, Look to the Sun over a pointillistic waltz beat that contrasts with the cello’s lush washes. Her lyrics are thoughtful, sometimes opaque and draw you in: this one seems to be about a struggle for clarity.
So High works a jaunty, skipping-down-the-sidewalk ragtime-pop pulse, but at the same time it’s not completely at ease: is it about being so wasted you can’t think straight? That would be very counterintuitive for a song this lively and direct. Words has a catchy, more somberly insistent quality, McElwain building an artfully terse weave behind Winthrop’s chords and pensive vocals.
Walk Away develops an aptly disorienting, jazzy edge, McElwain plucking out a bassline over Winthrop’s anxiously precise chromatics. See Me has a brooding circus rock/noir cabaret ambience, McElwain switching between stark washes and dancing lines. All of Me is an original, not the jazz standard, although it owes more to jazz and blues than the other tracks. The last one is Fantasie in G Minor, a solo piano instrumental that could be a miniature by Schubert or Faure. All this should sound good in Caffe Vivaldi’s intimate confines, especially on an off night when the place isn’t overrun with drunks on their way back to Jersey.
Winthrop also has an unusually eclectic background, having had considerable success as an actress and dancer, with experience in the opera world as well. The reason you’re seeing this here and not at the top of the page is to set her apart from the legions of newly arrived sorority girls who took a couple of tap lessons, appeared in a college production or two, moved to New York on their parents’ tab and then decided on a lark to take up singing.