Coolly Enigmatic, Purist Jazz Chanteuse Dorian Devins Brings Her Reinventions to Her Usual West Village Haunt
Singer Dorian Devins works the cool side of jazz. Subtlety is her thing: if you detest over-the-top things in general, you will love her style. Her uncluttered, often disarmingly direct mezzo-soprano delivery brings to mind misty torch singers like June Christy and Julie London (Devins once conceived of a multi-artist tribute night that would be called I Am Not Julie London). Which speaks to Devins’ deadpan, often devastating sense of humor, something that sometimes makes it into her performances depending on how sedate the venue is. Some of her latest full-length album, sardonically titled Imaginary Release is streaming at her music page. She’s at Cornelia Street Cafe on August 31 at 6 PM leading a quintet; cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.
The album is a mix of standards, the classic instrumental joints that Devins loves to pen her own lyrics to, and a handful of choice originals. She and her group open with Benny Goodman’s Lullaby in Rhythm, Devins’ artful climb from guarded hope to quiet triumph contrasting with Tom Christensen’s jaunty tenor sax and Paul Gill’s dancing bowed bass over the low-key swing of pianist Lou Rainone and drummer Taro Okamoto. Her first lyrical reinvention here is Wayne Shorter’s Conundrum, an aptly enigmatic ballad with Rainone’s glittering piano and Christensen’s terse flute over Okamoto’s bossa-tinged groove.
The lustre of Richie Vitale’s flugelhorn in tandem with the flute introduce a balmy, matter-of-factly optimistic take of Leonard Bernstein’s Some Other Time, Gill’s fluttering bass solo handing off to Rainone’s gleaming neoromanticisms. Then they pick up the pace, remaking Duke Ellington’s I’m Gonna Go Fishin’ as a brisk, understatedly biting jazz watlz with soaring solos from Vitale on trumpet and Christensen on tenor to match Devins’ leaps and bounds.
The album’s best and most deviously entertaining track is Satie-ated – damn, there goes another good title! It’s a distantly bolero-esque remake of Erik Satie’s Gymnopede No. 1. “Here and there the distant glare that burns me/I hope there’ll be a time my mind returns me,” Devins broods, echoed by Christensen’s moody oboe. Resolution, a Devins/Rainone co-write, opens with a similarly modal gravitas and rises to a shuffling entreaty to come down from the clouds and have some fun, Christensen’s tenor spirals handing off to Rainone’s terse flourishes.
Devin’s coy vocals contrast with the nocturnal groove of Jobim’s So Tinha de Ser Com Voce: it’s closer to straight-up clave jazz than dreamy bossa, Rainone adding a welcome bluesy tint. Devins’ final original is the pensive jazz waltz Lament for the Moon, Christensen’s mournful oboe and Rainone’s expressive piano echoing the metaphorically-charged tale of a satellite who’s completely lost in daylight hours.
They do Hidden Treasure, by jazz-inflected 70s British rock band Traffic, as an uneasy clave tune and stay in tropicalia mood for a bossa take of 60s folksinger Tim Harden’s Misty Roses, Tom Hubbard’s pinpoint bass contrasting with swooping flute. The album winds up with a genially swinging, bittersweet take of Billie Holiday’s The Moon Looks Down and Laughs. This is Devins’ most eclectic and strongest release to date – and she’s got another ep, City Stories, just out and up on Spotify, too.