Saturday, February 20, 2010

Emma Frank Quartet - February 3 at Dièse Onze

"Let It Go," the standout track on Emma Frank's humble online home, starts with a few soft chords, offbeat hits against a snare's rim, and a simple kick to reminds us where the cycle starts. For the next three minutes, the local vocalist blissfully explores the nuances of notes she seems tied to only at arm's length. Blending ever-tasteful vibrato, natural scats, and soothing melodies, the song shows off the best parts of whatever neo-soul meant to be, its restraint more rewarding with each listen.

When I first complimented Emma on her ability to add depth to sometimes straightforward vocal lines, she wrote it off as being "just Jazz," effectively downplaying her talent and the fact that she applies similar techniques to her multiple pop forays. Online, this is evident in the first single from her newest project, She's Got a Habit, in which spacey synths and rolling beats provide the backbone for the adaptable songstress's musings. And in real life, the jazz-pop amalgamation came to the fore during the Emma Frank Quartet's second set at Dièse Onze earlier this month. Highlights included a prodding cover of Bjork's "Unison", and of course busy-stickman Phil Melanson's facial expressions. ("Feeling" doesn't even approach an accurate description of the experience that is watching Phil coax his drums.)

During that set, the band balanced experiments beyond jazz's realm while staying true to the purpose of the dimly lit Saint-Denis lounge. Following the stirring build-up around said cover's "I never thought I would compromise", the Frank-penned "Go Running" led the band into a disco-jazz territory before a remarkable dose of Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's Alright". While the original relies upon a subtly simple yet powerful chord pattern, the Quartet brought the changes to an undefined but oft-cited 'next level'. But what's really exciting about this band is there ability to play off each other, each musician serving an equal (and between the vocals and saxophone, sometimes indistinguishable) role in the sound. See them when you can.

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