Vocalist Carol Sloane claimed she was distracted during her performance Friday at the Hyatt Newporter. Delivered to the stage at the last possible moment via a maintenance cart, the Stoneham, Mass., resident was, she later explained to the audience, paying close attention to her beloved Boston Red Sox as they entered the late innings tied with the Oakland Athletics.
All this came out after her second number, "Memories Of You," when she asked those watching the concert from their hotel balconies if anyone had the game on. Later, someone walked up to the stage and whispered in her ear as she was crooning "Baubles, Bangles and Beads." "Ya-hoo," she sang, as if it were a scat phrase. "Boston, 6-5."
If Sloane really was distracted, it didn't show. Seeming very much at ease, she worked her way through a program of ballads and mid-tempo numbers during her first set, many pulled from her new "Sweet & Slow" (on the Concord label). All were done with grace, charm and conviction. This is one vocalist who delivers every time she steps to the plate.
A master storyteller, Sloane frames each word carefully, emphasizing not only its meaning, but also its sound. Key to that approach is her character-filled voice, an instrument that is bright and sunny in the upper range, breathy and mysterious in the lower. She displayed an uncanny way of keeping one's attention as a lyric develops and the plot thickens. You sincerely want to know what happens next, whether in familiar songs, such as "Memories Of You," or more obscure pieces, such as "An Older Man Is Like An Elegant Wine."
Back in Boston, Sloane often fills in for a disc jockey on a local radio station. "When people hear my voice, they think I'm tall, slender, young . . . and black," she explained to the crowd in her cool, smoky--make that sexy--speaking voice.
Sloane's vocal sound may be uncharacteristic, but it sure is versatile. Her oh-so-slow version of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" was rich and intimate. The more upbeat "On the Street Where You Live" came across in pure and airy tones. At one point in "Memories Of You," her voice took on tones reminiscent of her idol, Carmen McRae. In another song she pointed out a single note dedicated to Morgana King. Sarah Vaughn was remembered with "Deep Purple."
While her general approach is to deal directly with a lyric, she wasn't above changing a line here or there, or lengthening a phrase with the injection of some scat syllables. One pass through "On the Street Where You Live" had her declaring that "somehow John Wayne is near . . ." And, "oh, that towering feeling" was stretched in swinging fashion with some rhythmic be-bop syllables.
Still, during this kind of inventive play, melody and lyric remained central. When Sloane messed with the melody, she was melodic; when she fiddled with the words it was appropriate to the tale she was telling and the circumstances in which she performed.
Her longtime accompanist Stefan Scaggiari provided the kind of intelligent accompaniment that gave the singer freedom to experiment with the rhythm. "Baubles," done at a bossa-nova pace, found the pianist jumping into his improvisation with a long ascending line that gave way to a melodic construction of chords. A recording artist in his own right (also on Concord), Scaggiari gave a very sensitive reading of "Where Or When" before the singer came out.
Sloane seemed especially pleased with bassist Andy Simpkins who, as always, provided strong harmonic tracking as well as solos filled with slippery lines and melodic references. Drummer Paul Kreibich, seen here last week powering the 14-piece Dial-Oatts brass works, displayed his versatility with sterling brush work and steaming cymbals on "Take the A-Train."