Sunday, September 10, 2006

Review no. 1: Maria De Angelis at LeMoyne College

Here is my first review for my Critical Writing course...enjoy!

Rarely does an artist play to an audience more easily thrilled than a hometown crowd, as evidenced by jazz vocalist and Syracuse native Maria De Angelis’ lackluster performance Sunday afternoon.

De Angelis has a devoted fan base in her hometown, drawing a crowd of more than 60 people of all ages to LeMoyne College’s W. Carroll Coyne Center for the Performing Arts for a concert to celebrate the release of her fourth CD, “Hot Summer.”

Before De Angelis appeared onstage, aptly attired to her album’s title in a loose-fitting white tankdress, iridescent orange shawl, and bejeweled thong sandals, the competent trio of Michael Kanan on piano, Neal Miner on bass, and Tim Pleasant on drums warmed up the crowd with an instrumental number.

De Angelis began her homespun performance with “Day off,” the opening track from her new release. Co-written by De Angelis and pianist-composer Phil Klein, “Day off” falls short of the macabre, murder-ballad standard of “Mack the Knife” the composers were attempting to recreate, suffering from vague lyrics and De Angelis’ unconvincing delivery. The audience loved it, all the same.

They also chuckled their way through the cringe-inducing, “latin-ish” (to borrow De Angelis’ word) duet “Pretend you love me,” in which guest performer Syd Tenenbaum affected an accent reminiscent of Antonio Banderas. In one of the song’s most unfortunate punchlines, De Angelis rhymed “big enchilada” with “nada.”

From there it was mostly uphill, lyrically speaking. But the energy that so often distinguishes a live performance was simply not there. Perhaps De Angelis was too comfortable – she’s known her band for more than 15 years, and the audience appeared to be mostly friends and family – because the casual feel of the concert came across more disengaged than easygoing.

In the final song of the main set, De Angelis began in the wrong key and, laughing it off, had to start again. A rendition of the Gershwin classic “Someone to Watch Over Me” suffered from a tempo so slow as to be cruel, resulting in a lifeless recitation from both De Angelis and the trio. Throughout the 10-song set, De Angelis’ read from a music stand, and her attempts at conveying emotion consisted largely of furrowing her brow, closing her eyes, and gesticulating half-heartedly.

De Angelis is at her best in the middle of her voice, but too often she tried to sing above or below the bounds of her surprisingly small range, creating inconsistencies in tone, vibrato and vocal color.

Despite the self-penned lyrical duds and De Angelis’ deficient stage presence, the concert was not entirely without charm. Two other original songs, sung in French, were endearing and lovely, highlighting the best parts of De Angelis’ range. The final tune, “Now that you’ve gone,” composed by Klein, revealed a richness in De Angelis’ voice, leaving a pleasant final impression.

Throughout the hour-long concert, De Angelis spent nearly as much time thanking people as she did singing – but no matter what she did, her adoring audience was happy to applaud.

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