Jazz on the Rocks…

19 Oct

Tanya did it for the kids.  Now she’s doing it for the adults.  Moon River oozed sophistication on the kid’s compilation, Sing Me To Sleep (released on American Laundromat Records); and it seems that was literally just a breath of what the former Belly front-woman and Throwing Muse can do – when it comes to a bit of soulful jazz.

Jazz on the Rocks, streamed live across the internet and coming right out of a sultry kind of venue in Kendall Square, Cambridge – reached me, sleepy yet wide-eyed – at 1am this Friday morning.  8pm for the east-coasters.

On Tanya’s second solo album, Beautysleep – released in 2002; she sang on single, The Storm – “I’m not finished yet, I’m under construction.  You can peek behind the curtain if you like.”  I for one, am glad the curtain is lifting and we’re a part of her construction – tonight, she has grown into her skin and it seems the days of singing of dead dogs; decapitated dolls and fish raining from the sky – are long behind her.

I kind of hope not, though.

Still – dressed all in black; she is unimposing – not alike many female jazz vocalists preceding her – but that’s exactly what makes Tanya Donelly so real; and probably why she has a loyal gaggle of listeners who are sticking around today, just like in the earlier days.

Talking of gaggle – Wally Gagel – aka Production Club – collaborated with Tanya a few years back on the poppy tune, Devil’s Kiss.  “When the clocks stop, that’s the beating of my heart that you feel going tick-tock…”  Tanya breathes.  There have always been the clues peppered across Tanya’s vocals right from the start – and tonight, it feels as though it is a personal and professional challenge to this artist who began her career as guitarist and backing vocals to step-sister Kristin Hersh, in their band Throwing Muses.  As fourteen year olds, they were both writing lyrics off-beat to the mainstream – and with songs such as The River; Green and Pools in Eyes – all written by Tanya – they always stood out as having some otherworldly, visceral sense to them.  As though a child were channeling the wisdom of the world through her baby-toned lyrics.

There was nothing child-like about tonight’s Jazz on the Rocks performance, though – and, faced by a room full of friends, strangers and in-betweeners – not to mention invisible webcams broadcasting the entire show internationally – Tanya stood, centre stage, holding her mic – and took the entire world on a journey through time.  Back to a time of cigarettes; smoky saloons and seduction – and possibly forward to the journey she herself now sees herself as naturally moving into.  To the onlooker, to me, it was a really beautiful combination of reinvention; self-presentation; and glamification (if that’s not a word, it is now).

It goes to show – the artist we loved because of her dark and abstract lyrics; because of her silky and surprising vocals; and because of her truly genuine and warm personality – is most definitely still under construction.  If we are prepared to let go of the musical artist she once was, perhaps we’ll get a peek behind the curtain at the amazing, beautiful work still to come from Tanya Donelly.  Let’s hope so.


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