Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Cait Jones, vocal. Fine and Rare, November 21, 2022.
I’m late to the party, because Cait Jones has been singing and leading small swinging bands in New York City and around the world for more than a half-dozen years; she has YouTube videos and several CDs as “Cait and the Critters.”
But what I heard in person last Monday night convinced me thoroughly that she has and is a rare talent.
In the course of a set-and-a-half, Cait sang a baker’s dozen classic songs: YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / JUST IN TIME / WHERE OR WHEN / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / FOOLIN’ MYSELF / ZING! WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART / I HADN’T ANYONE TILL YOU / BLUES IN THE NIGHT / THEM THERE EYES // NICE AND EASY / YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME / ALL TOO SOON / WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW //
(I noted with pleasure the absence of GOD BLESS THE CHILD, MY FUNNY VALENTINE, and WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO — marvelous songs done threadbare through repetition. And because this post is about Cait, I am not writing at length about the superb intuitive playing of Michael and Neal, two heroes of the art. But you know.)
Because Cait has a background in swing dancing and music for those agile people, each song had a pulse, which enabled her, Michael, and Neal to explore the endless variations in Medium Tempo. No “racetrack tempos” (to quote Jimmie Rowles) and no sentimental dirges. In another singer’s hands, a dozen vintage affection-themed songs might have sounded too similar. But Cait had a clear idea of what I will call the landscape of each song, or perhaps its interior decor. So the mood of each song was unique unto itself. I never thought to myself, “Well, we just heard that,” because each pearl was remarkable on its own terms.
Her approach is at once plain and filigreed.
Plain in that she respects the composers’ intentions without melodramatic ego-displays. The result is a friendly convincing understatement, where the song itself is the star. She has a lovely voice, splendid clear diction, admirable microphone technique (somewhat of a lost art) dead-on pitch, and subtle swing. Her first choruses honored the melody; her second choruses wandered in the meadow of possibilities, changing a pitch here and there in a manner that would have pleased Richard Rodgers or Ann Ronell.
The filigree entered in her small but moving variations on the melodic line, and — even better — her delightful way of handling the lyrics as if they were emotive speech, compressing a phrase into a few beats and elongating another over the rhythm — as if the words had just occurred to her as needing to be shared, said, sung. I felt that she had moved into each song, made herself comfortable, and delicately rearranged its moving parts so that we could hear it anew. To me that is an art both considerable and subtle, never in capital letters but affecting nonetheless.
As you can tell, I was impressed. And I don’t impress easily these days. A publicist recently sent me a CD by a well-advertised young singer, and I put it in the player with the best expectations. Midway through the first chorus, I thought, “This young woman is doing a superb job of impersonating Sarah Vaughan — a great feat — but I can listen to Sarah unadorned whenever I like.” Cait Jones sounds like herself, although it’s clear she’s heard the masters. But delightfully, I think her inspirations are also the great instrumentalists, more Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges than cloning singers.
Cait has two new CDs coming out. On one, she composes lyrics to the music of Mathieu Najean; on the other, she is accompanied by Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, and Greg Ruggiero . . . none better. I will keep you informed about both issues, which I am looking forward to.
Thank you, Cait!
May your happiness increase!