Shortly before Tessa Souter was to take the stage at Blues Alley, a group of business people, wearing those ubiquitous conference name tags, came in out of the rain and found tables near the stage. We were curious. How did they find their way to Blues Alley, a longtime Georgetown club that really is located in an alley off Wisconsin Avenue, NW? “Someone booked us into a comedy club,” a young woman responsible for the scheduling told us, rolling her eyes. “I thought—we can do better than that!”
A Tessa Souter fan, she was thrilled to see the singer would be performing at Blues Alley and quickly switched the evening’s reservation. Brilliant move. Tessa Souter, always a thrilling performer, was truly at the top of her game. Backed up by a five-piece band of superbly talented musicians, she didn’t just put on a show. She staged an event. And judging by the enthusiastic response, she picked up an entire room of new, loyal fans.
Tessa’s new album, her fourth, Beyond the Blue, has just been released. For this collection, Tessa selected a dozen classical melodies, writing new lyrics for nine of the songs. The result is a perfect storm: beautiful music, heartfelt words, delivered by one of the most expressive and sensuous voices in the jazz world today. Seeing her perform songs from the new album was truly magical. Dressed for the evening in a glamourous one shoulder dress, soft curls framing her face, she immediately connected with the audience, explaining the genesis of Beyond the Blue, and sharing stories.
Then it was time for music. It’s difficult to select a favorite, but two would definitely be “The Darkness of Your Eyes” (Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane), with new lyrics by Tessa. Reflected in the darkness of your eyes I feel that I belong to you, and the title track, “Beyond the Blue” (Frédéric Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor, Opus 28, No. 4) Love doesn’t only live in dreams. It’s here. It’s you. Does Tessa connect with the lyrics because she wrote them? No doubt, but even with “The Lamp Is Low” (Maurice Ravel’s Pavane with lyrics by Mitchell Parish) we were taken on an emotional ride, willing it not to end.
Talent attracts talent and Tessa certainly excels in that regard. And she gave the five musicians sharing the stage plenty of opportunity to shine. Don Braden, displayed his amazing versatility, playing saxophone, flute, and alto sax, while Victor Prieto’s solos on the accordion were simply mesmerizing. We wished we had been sitting closer to the piano during Robert Redd’s solos so we could see how his fingers could possibly move that quickly. Tessa quipped that she was trying to figure out how to keep drummer Mark McLean a secret to keep him only with her. Good luck with that! Tessa joked that James King Jr. (bass) keeps getting younger looking and she might have been fooled into thinking he had sent his son in his place. He didn’t and his accompaniment on bass was perfect.
All too quickly, 90 minutes flew by. Tessa greeted her fans and autographed albums. For those unable to attend her show at Blues Alley, buy her album and check her website for future performances. This is one talent not to be missed.