The Sunday evening overcast was a gray sheen in the basement windows across the top of the south-facing wall. The cheap, round cafe tables were spread haphazardly around the room. Josh Jones, Jacqui Naylor's percussionist, and I had just finished talking about who was going to win the NFL playoff game. He'd sneaked across the street to a fitness joint to check out the score on the TVs over the treadmills.
The music began. The afternoon was a brief escape from the treadmills, the playoffs, and the world of what must get done. At the Jazz School in Berkeley, CA on Jan 22nd, I was fortunate to be invited to a small gathering of Jacqui's fans for two 50-minute sets of music. Jacqui showed off some of her new stylings such as her version of Prince's "Kiss," her version of "Skylark," of Dayna Kurtz's "Love Gets In the Way," a tune called "Easy Ride," a smart and telling version of R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion," a version of Shirley Horn's "Here's to Life," as well as a few other newbies.
She also played through a retrospective assortment of work from her first four releases - she played "What a Little Moonlight..." from her self-titled first release (the yellow one) midway through the second set. She started off the first set with "Lazy Afternoon" from her second album, (the red one) Live at the Plush Room. She played stuff like "Before I'm Gone" and "Shelter" off her third album, (the blue one) Shelter.
From her breakthrough collection, her fourth (the brown one) Live East/West she played at least four or five songs. The delight was tangible in such an intimate setting, in a jazz school basement, on a Sunday's lazy afternoon in Berkeley... it doesn't get much better.
I can't say if it is obvious from the set list, but I think attentive fans can see Jacqui's perspective has deepened and clarified over the course of her four releases. I think her unique point of view has been a process of discovery. In the first releases she explored what tunes fit her and what tunes she fit. This evolution of her perspective has become a big part of appreciating her.
The spirit-cum-art-cum-pop incommensurability that one should feel when listening to an artist who ranges from AC/DC to "Tea for Two" in just a few short minutes - never materializes when listening to Jacqui. This is because the songs, their lyrics, their meanings, and the way she sings them are subsumed by the overarching and evolving extension of her artistic spirit. The unifying quality of her singing stylization further contributes to this odd synthesis. Who would put Jimi Hendrix's "Angel" and Blossom Dearie's "Try Your Wings" in the same category of music? No one - but Jacqui does, and in Jacqui's capable hands songs as varied as these hold together around the simple dimensions of her appeal.