Tamar Korn Thinks on Her Feet and Enchants the Crowd at Barbes
Memorial Day at Barbes, singer Tamar Korn addressed the audience cautiously. “Brain Cloud’s not here,” she explained. “This is my situation.” The well-loved western swing band the petite, irrepressible singer fronts will be back at their usual Monday night residency on June 5 at 7 PM for those lucky enough to be able to get out of work in time to get to Park Slope. Lots do – the back room always fills up.
Despite the holiday, there was a good crowd for this one, and everybody stayed. “I call this project Kornucopia,” Korn grinned, and it’s an apt band name. Korn is both someone who everyone wants to play with, and who basically ends up doing that anyway – that’s the state of swing jazz in New York in 2017. This was a special treat, a chance to watch her think on her feet and run through a lot of material that she rarely gets the chance to, backed by an excellent pickup band including Rob Hecht on violin, Mark Lopeman on tenor sax and clarinet, Rob Adkins on bass and a California pal, in town for the weekend, on piano.
The set was more obscurities than standards. The high point might have been an early Billie Holiday number, One Never Knows, Does One. Korn delivered it eyes closed, wistful and pensive, opening a door into another world, letting that world slip in, and the audience slip out into it. Korn’s high soprano is instantly recognizable, with a little mist and a little smoke – jaunty wit notwithstanding, her not-so-secret weapon is nuance.
Another memorable moment, among many, was when Korn sang Abi Gezunt, the famous Yiddish swing anthem. It’s hard to translate – the implication is “at least we’re not dead.” Songs by embattled minorities – whether Mexicans under the conquistadors or now Trump, American blacks, or European Jews – tend to be ripe with irony and signification, and this was a prime example. Metropolitan Klezmer rips the hell out of it – Korn’s version gave voice to its ironies and bittersweetness. She sang the last verse in English to drive those emotions home.
The group ran through a couple of standards as well – was Old Devil Moon one of them? Maybe. Korn is unsurpassed at vocalizing the sound of various instruments. Trombone is a specialty, but this particular evening she was in a low-key trumpet mood (forget about that rrt-rrt-rrt kazoo sound – anybody can do that!). Lopeman spun wafting lyrical sax figures and jaunty, sometimes dixieland-flavored clarinet lines, Hecht adding stark blues and atmospherics, Adkins thinking on his feet as much as Korn with his purposeful, horn-like solos. Elegant, low-key rolls and tumbles and occasional departures toward barrelhouse or ragtime from the piano completed the picture. This is the kind of magic that you might accidentally stumble into over a holiday weekend at Barbes – whose Indiegogo campaign isn’t over yet, and is only about 70% funded at this point. You can help ensure that this Brooklyn treasure sticks around long enough to outlast both the Trump and Pence administrations.