There was a construction crane over Gracie Terzian‘s head. But she didn’t seem stressed – and as it turned out, it didn’t fall, or drop a megaton load on her.
OK, it wasn’t directly over her head. Any angst she might have been feeling, swaying in front of her jazz quartet earlier this evening in the corner of the rooftop bar at the new Hotel Hugo on Greenwich Street just north of Spring, was probably coming from a much closer place. Looking south toward the financial district, the crane was in the background directly behind her. Metaphorically loaded New York image, perfectly crystallized, 2015.
Although she’s comfortable singing jazz standards, Terzian distinguishes herself by writing her own songs. Watching her, the restlessness was visceral, a carefully channeled intensity just waiting to bust out. And there was more than a hint that she would be more at home under lower lights, on a bigger stage. Granted, this was a night where just about everybody wanted out of their skin and into a walk-in fridge. “Waited twenty years before I could breathe,” she sang in her disarmingly straightforward, airconditioned alto – another perfectly extemporaneous, metaphorical moment.
Young jazz chanteuses tend to throw themselves in an audience’s direction, but not Terzian. She opened the night’s first set with her original Saints and Poets, a dare to anyone to match her individualism and willingness to go out on a limb. She gave the song a low-key allure, but left the door ajar for menace to enter the room, bending her blue notes with a nonchalance that could have gone totally Lynchian but didn’t. Much of her material was taken from her auspicious debut album, including Love Rest, where she deftly built a jazz waltz out of an oldschool soul vamp. And the cajolery in the casually cheery bossa-jazz number Sleepwalker had a dark undercurrent: “I sleepwalk, I apologize” – yikes!
Terzian’s band is the New Dominion, since everybody in the group hails from the Washington, DC area. Old Dominion, New Dominion, cute, huh? But cuteness doesn’t factor into Terzian’s songwriting or stage presence, or for that matter, the band. The rhythm section – bassist Charlie Himel and drummer Graham Doby – gave her a lithe, slinky backdrop and guitarist Brett Jones supplied every hip voicing in the book, shifting dynamically without any worry whether the extended family assembled on the banquette or the trio of soccer hooligans on the balcony were in on the magic the group were working to create. Terzian closed the set with Exit Strategy, its tense contemplation of a breakup channeled through brooding chromatics and unexpected key changes that flew off the page.
Terzian and the New Dominion continue their residency throughout the summer every Monday night starting at around 6:30 PM at Bar Hugo on the roof of the Hugo Hotel, 525 Greenwich Street just north of Spring, just a few blocks from either the C/E to Spring St. or the 1 to Houston. To call this place laid back is an understatement: there’s plenty of fancy food and drink available, or you can just chill and watch the clouds from the balcony.