Soulraye's bedroom funk
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., September 26, 2002) -- When Lee Shaw began playing piano in nightclubs in Chicago, she was sharing bills with the likes of Anita O’Day, Billie Holiday, Roy Kral, Sarah Vaughn and Roy Haynes. It was the 1950s, and fresh out of conservatory, the Oklahoma native drew mostly on her classical background, her encyclopedic knowledge of popular songs, and her uncanny ability to play in any key.
On-the-job training, plus several years of study with jazz piano great Oscar Peterson, turned Shaw into the first-rate jazz pianist she later became. She has led her own trio for over 40 years, during which time she has performed in clubs and festivals all over the world. Shaw, who has lived in the Albany region for the last three decades, has been a guest on Marian McPartland’s NPR program, “Piano Jazz,” and was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1993.
A recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Shaw has also been a teacher for several decades. Among her most accomplished students is John Medeski, keyboardist with Medeski, Martin and Wood.
Shaw brings her trio, including Mike DeMicco on guitar and Rich Syracuse on bass, to the Castle Street Café in Great Barrington on Friday night.
For the better part of the last decade, Lenox native Kristin Gray has been in New York working as a singer, actress, dancer and designer. She has performed in a Broadway musical and recorded with Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Buckethead, Ric Ocasek of the Cars and Tommy Shaw of Styx and Damn Yankees. She sang backup for ex-Eurythmics star Dave Stewart, and appeared in several of his music videos.
But Gray isn’t playing second fiddle any more. She is now sharing the spotlight in Soulraye, a band she has formed with her partner, Michael “Soul” Raye. The two have a new CD, “Mystic Gypsies,” recorded in their home studio, House of Vibe, and released on their own label. The recording features mostly original songs in psychedelic soul style – think Prince meets Minnie Riperton – as well as several choice covers, including a Bob Marley song, a Beatles tune, and John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Gray and Raye swap lead vocals on the songs, and Raye handles all the keyboards and programming on the album, which has one foot on the dance floor and the other in the bedroom – maybe more bedroom than dance floor, actually.
Gray and Raye bring their five-piece band and their new songs to the ARC Theatre at Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington on Saturday night at 8.
Victoria Williams/Mark Olson
Does the world really need another album full of versions of songs like “Moon River” and “Blue Skies” and “Over the Rainbow” and “My Funny Valentine”? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s safe to say that the world has never heard these songs sung quite the way Victoria Williams sings them on “Sings Some Ol’ Songs” (Dualtone).
Best known as a quirky, alt-country singer-songwriter, Williams has an utterly unique voice, at once girlish, knowing and a little bit squeaky – a cross between Carol Channing and Olive Oyl -- and as it turns out, perfectly suited to tackle material like “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “As Time Goes By.” Williams approaches the material with love and respect but without any preconceived notions of how they should sound. As a result, her phrasing is totally her own; thus, she almost turns “My Funny Valentine” into a blues, and she renders the Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer “I’m Old Fashioned” as a jazzy bossa nova.
The album is also helped by spare arrangements that highlight Williams’s voice – although a few tunes feature string arrangements, most of them include just a trio or quartet of bass, guitar and keyboards with a sprinkling of horns or woodwinds.
Williams performs with her husband, Mark Olson, ex- of the Jayhawks, and his band, the Creepdippers – who also have a new album, “December’s Child” – on Sunday night at the Iron Horse in Northampton at 7.
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on September 26, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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