Marianne Solivan is not only an affecting singer but an affecting artist. I know that her approach to the audience and to her songs — so candid, so deep — is the result of hard work at her craft — but she makes it seem new, fresh, unstudied. She isn’t “acting,” but exploring, finding her way through the notes and pauses, the facts of the words and the sweep of the music — to create something moving in each phrase.
Even on songs that I have heard for thirty years or more (I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME is one example) Marianne manages to strip away the accretions of familiar expectations to reveal the heart of the music living underneath. Her candor is remarkable, as she balances power and delicacy, performing without seeming to perform. Her music is intense but never melodramatic, and she takes us with her.
She proved this once again at Iridium on May 22, 2012, with three special players — each one a poetic sound-painter — who accompanied her on her quests: the pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Marco Panascia, and drummer Michael Petrosino.
The hour-long set made me think, not for the first time, “It is a privilege to hear these musicians.” I hope you feel the same way!
You’ll have to take this one on faith, but it’s absolutely true. Marianne and the band decided, wisely, to do a sound check before beginning their performance. She alerted the audience and the band embarked on a brief LOVE WALKED IN. When it was over, the crowd at the Iridium applauded. Not noisily, as at a rock concert, but with real appreciation. They knew what was happening onstage!
Marianne began with a puckish Declaration of Independence, smiling all the way through, I CAN’T HELP IT (she says she likes the lyrics, and no wonder):
Marianne often begins her sets with IN LOVE IN VAIN — one of the darkest songs I know, and that is including GLOOMY SUNDAY — but she takes it into a brisk medium tempo, somewhat undercutting the sadness. Although I’ve heard her perform it more than a half-dozen times, each version is new and affecting:
I hadn’t heard Marianne perform I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME . . . but I admire so how she sidesteps the Holiday trap: that is, the temptation to meow and slither as Billie did so memorably. This performance, like every other Solivan exploration I know, is all hers:
Another song with a somber title, THE LONELY ONES, a rare Ellington-Duke Jordan (!) collaboration, makes Marianne sing it with perverse enthusiasm and delight . . . if it weren’t such a cliche, I would write that she has a twinkle in her eye. Perhaps a permanent gleam?
Without trying hard or showing off how hard she’s working, Marianne makes even the most familiar songs shine — we hear them for the first time. For me, PRISONER OF LOVE summons up Lester Young – Teddy Wilson and Russ Columbo (in that order). But I have added Marianne’s approach to that pantheon:
I would bet that Michael Kanan, that conoisseur of rare beautiful music, brought MOON RAY to everyone’s attention — it’s one of the unusual tunes written by Artie Shaw, and the band does it beautifully:
Forthright and heartfelt — I WISH I DIDN’T LOVE YOU SO:
What other singer would fuse Alec Wilder’s MOON AND SAND and the somewhat obscure French IF YOU GO?
Another moving experience — watching these four musicians proceed bravely through the possibly over-familiar MORE THAN YOU KNOW — making it fresh at every turn:
What Marianne calls “their hit,” the elusive sweet-sour GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY . . . is it an affirmation or a despairing resignation or both? You decide:
And — to close — an exultant DAY IN, DAY OUT:
I haven’t said anything about Michael Kanan, Marco Panascia, and Michael Petrosino. What do you say about beautifully intuitive players who know when you whisper and when to propel, who know how to blend and support, who make just the right impressionistic clouds of sound throughout an evening? Why can’t all accompanists be this wise, this brave, this subtle? Their generosity to Marianne, to the music, and to us, was heartening.
May your happiness increase.