…good to the last dropMichele Henderson with Ming and Friends, Act 4 – The Grand Finale Michele: vocals, flute Michael Low Chew Tung (Ming): keys Richard Joseph: drums Modupe Folasade Onilu: percussion Kevon La Fleur: bass Dean Williams: guitar
The saying goes, “You never know what you’re gonna get till you get it.” Actually, that’s no saying; I am just saying … whatever I want. But it’s true, isn’t it?
Look at it this way: You love Jazz. There is something going on at Farm Road, St. Joseph, Trinidad called Jazz Artists on the Greens. It is your understanding that some female artist from the Commonwealth of Dominica called Michele Henderson is headlining. That name sounds familiar, you think, but that doesn’t matter. At least, you have somewhere to go on Saturday, March 24, 2012.
You get to The Greens on time. The booths form an arc and inside of it, white chairs are lined up in rows and columns. The J-Fans, die-hard and casual alike, are streaming in. The atmosphere seems good.
You are a bit distracted; there are old friends to get reacquainted to and new alliances to forge. There is a stir on stage. Thanks to the artistry of opening acts, Carlton “Zanda” Alexander & The Coalpot Band, Llettesha Sylvester and Clifford Charles Quintet, the show is chugging along quite nicely, building up to the headliner.
Then Michele Henderson walks on and Ming and Friends strike up with “Agua de Beber” (Antonio Carlos Jobim). Richard Joseph fleshes out the bossa nova beat and the atmosphere changes for you. Didn’t it? The Greens become electrically charged … up. And all those of you who might have been absent-minded for some reason over the previous three hours, sit up (at first) and take notice for the Lady in Red is dancing … with you. Fatal attraction! Smitten!! Mind-blowing!!!
Not letting up on the tempo, Michele re-acquaints us with the well-worn but evergreen Errol Garner classic “Misty” in intoxicating fashion, her pipes flowing notes with fluidity, power and passion.
That’s the word, “Passion!” For it is passion that connects the artist to the essence of a song … and her audience … our soul. Michele has this attribute, Passion, in abundance here.
This characteristic feature becomes more evident on her next delivery, the sappy Rogers and Hammerstein pop song turned Jazz standard that becomes so because of the improvisational and harmonic possibilities it lends itself to. Michele calls on lead guitarist Dean Williams to act as a foil to her immeasurable vocalizations.
One could be excused for hazarding a guess that Ming and Friends is Michele’s longtime backup outfit. They are not of course. However, in witnessing how confident and seamless the players are matching wits with her, one wouldn’t know it. By the end of the command performance, the band will have kept pace with their leader, locking horns with her no matter what she threw at them – Classic Jazz, Latin, Bossa, Zouk, Pop and Reggae.
This brings me to the dawning realization that Bob Marley is after all a staple on the Jazz circuit, eliciting all sorts of interpretations. For the most part, a Marley is played straight, a solo or two passing for Jazz interpretation, which in some instances is hardly credible and boring.
On the night of March 24, Ming and Friends added themselves to the short list that is balking that trend, the easy way out. On “Waiting in Vain,” Richie’s drums and Kevon La Fleur’s bass handle the one drop rhythmic formula, leaving it to Ming on keys and Dean to inject stylistic Jazz sensibilities that set Michele’s cover apart from the rest.
I argued in this series of JAOTG reviews that a critical hallmark of a musician is a repertoire that does not exceed her limitations. Michele does not have to worry about that. She can pull a rabbit out of a hat and turn it into vocal gold.
For the purpose of this critique, I have to say that it is one thing for a Caribbean singer rooted in a French Antillean culture to deliver a Martinican call to arms in “Fo Daw Leve,” and a Groovy-Zouk original called “Pani Pawol.” It is an entirely different kettle of fish to pull off Chic Corea’s, “500 Miles,” “Armando’s Rhumba” and especially “Spain” (Concerto de Aranguez).
“Spain,” a staccato adaptation by Corea of the Joaquin Rodrigo adagio for an Al Jarreau collaboration must not, under any circumstances, be attempted at home without professional or parental supervision. Yet, Michele nails it to the door frame and pins it down like a WWF wrestler – the epitome of true and unfettered talent.
Michele does not, however, hug all the glory for herself. She lets Richie and percussionist Modupe Onilu in on the action via “500 miles,” letting them trade for a bit and then giving Modupe room to squeak the inside of his bongo drum while straddling his signature congas to reach the mic.
Pumped up by this reaction, the band took its game up another notch, unbelievably so. Zen Master Ming got off his haunches, a wide grin on his face. Priceless! Dean, surged forward, leaned back and threatened to shred his six-string axe as Michele hovered over him, demanding more.
Then it was all over, though not quite. Michele had earned a standing ovation – although it could be said that everyone was already on their feet. “The Diva,” quoting a member of my party, graciously offered a reprise to end the pandemonium on Farm Road.
Surprisingly, no one saw it fit to call the Fire Brigade. Maybe Production One Ltd. would be wise to have a tender on standby if ever Michele’s craft lands on The Greens again.
Legendary Caribbean-Jazz pianist Raf Robertson wraps it up best. “This is the first time that I have experienced Michele and what an experience! And she plays the flute. This girl serious.” Do I Do, Raf…Do I Do.
- Pannist Annise Hadeed closes Jazz Artists on the Greens 2012 on a question mark (woodshedec.wordpress.com)
- Clifford Charles heats up Jazz Artists on the Greens 2012 (woodshedec.wordpress.com)