Metropolitan Room, NYC, December 9, 2016
Reviewed by Peter Leavy for Cabaret Scenes
Detroit may have earned its reputation for putting automobiles together, but when it comes to assembling a jazzy holiday show with a talented and accomplished quintet to complement her appealing vocals, Detroiter Joan Belgrave is right up there with the best of them.
A low-key charmer, Belgrave’s relaxed presence had much of the feeling of being at a house party with long-cherished friends rather than presenting a program at one of New York City’s major venues. From the moment she took the stage, she lost no time is setting the season, opening with a pair of songs from her Merry Christmas Baby! EP. Taking the jazz performer’s prerogative of using the more traditional renditions of their numbers as a jumping-off point, Belgrave and her group riffed their joyful way through the set. All indications were that they were relishing their show as much as was their audience. Belgrave’s own instrument is sweet, smooth, and largely irresistible.
A gender-altered “Little Drummer Boy” (“Little Drummer Girl”) was followed by Belgrave’s come-hither “Santa Baby,” which also featured some adept solo keyboarding from pianist Sharp Radway and a demonstration by Greg Glassman of the effectiveness of a muted trumpet.
Before she left the Christmas theme behind to visit other enjoyable but less seasonable songs—including one, “All My Love,” written by her late husband, the well-known jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave—she brought Alex Rybeck onstage. Rybeck, perhaps best known in the cabaret world as an accompanist, arranger, and musical director, also puts his talents to work as a composer, and here he presented his original composition “Christmas Eve,” with lyrics by Carol Hall. Belgrave anticipated it would become a classic. It certainly contributed handsomely to the holiday spirit.
As noted, the quintet’s contributions enhanced the program effectively, with frequent individual solos throughout the show. In addition to Radway on the piano and Glassman on trumpet, there was Endea Owens on bass, Sanah Kadoura on drums, and TK Blue on saxophone and flute.
For those who want to see more of Joan Belgrave, a visit to Detroit might coincide with her performing as lead vocalist of the Motown Legends Gospel Choir. New Yorkers with a bit of patience can catch her again at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola next July 17, 2017.