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  • Jonathan Widran


Freda Payne’s two high-spirited, sultry and swinging October weekend nights at the Catalina Jazz Club came at a sweet spot in her legendary career – right on schedule between hitting the Top 20 on JazzWeek in August with her dynamic new jazz EP Let There Be Love featuring duets with Kenny Lattimore, Johnny Mathis, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling, and the November 2 release of “Band of Gold: A Memoir,” her highly anticipated autobiography penned with Mark Bego.

Just before she and her dynamic ensemble of L.A. jazz vets – including pianist Josh Nelson and the high octane dual horn section of Rickey Woodard (sax) and Nolan Shaheed (trumpet) – launched into a sly, scat-filled and brass-fired twist on Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me,” the singer made ironic mention that the evenings were billed as her “CD release party,” yet she could only sing one song from the collection because the all-star luminaries weren’t on hand to join her.

No matter, and all for the good because it allowed everyone in the upbeat audience to focus on her glow, her wit, her charm, her anecdotes and, best of all her expansive, freewheeling artistry. So while perhaps best known to pop culture consciousness for those indelible early 70s’ hits (on Holland-Dozier-Holland’s Invictus label) like her trademark “Band of Gold” and the gospel-inflected “Bring the Boys Home” – both rendered mid-set with equal parts exuberance, passion, pointed emotion and adventure – Freda was delightfully all over the stylistic map, bringing her multi-faceted autobiography to musical life in a myriad of engaging ways.

She paid homage to Ella Fitzgerald, whom she’s played numerous times onstage in “Here’s Ella: The Musical,” with some witty storytelling and a raspy-scat in a romp through “Mr. Paganini,” then later shared more of her stage repertoire with the delightfully romantic talk-sing number “50%” from the obscure late 70s musical Ballroom, featuring lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman.

Freda then rocked her torchy, dramatic and guttural blues side on the barnburner “Rough and Ready Man” and an easy grooving, then speedy paced swing through WC Handy’s early 20th Century gem “Saint Louis Blues.” The phrase that kept pounding through my mind during these were “Lady Swings the Blues!”

The singer then strolled down memory lane (literally) with two wonderful but lesser known tunes from the Invictus era, “I Get High (On Your Memory)” (for which she brought up various family members to serve as rousing harmony vocalists) and the playful, up-tempo “Through the Memory of My Mind.”

With the joyous, grooving magic of her rhythm section (Nelson, bassist Michael Saucier and drummer Reginald Quinerly) exploding behind her, Lady swung the blues even more forcefully on “Muddy Water,” her wild jamming finale that included heated solos by Woodard and Shaheed.


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