Four world-class vocalists nonchalantly took the Nashville Jazz Workshop stage on Friday night. A brunette woman picked up her microphone and greeted the audience with a casual “Welcome everyone,” and a slender man in a striped shirt started snapping. The opening line of Frank Loesser’s tune “If I Were a Bell” was a simple request: “Ask me how do I feel,” the four singers crooned. But it was easy to tell after just one line that the members of Third Coast Vocals felt overjoyed to be sharing that stage.
After a two-year absence from the Jazz Workshop (more than likely due to bandleader Jeff Hall’s relocation to Baltimore), Third Coast Vocals returned last week to perform in the workshop’s Snap on 2 & 4 series at the Jazz Cave. The quartet was accompanied by Jazz Workshop founders Lori Mechem and Roger Spencer, as well as saxophonist Don Aliquo and drummer Duffy Jackson.
Each member of Third Coast Vocals is powerhouse vocalist in his or her own right, and they come together to create a perfect blend of tones and styles. Rather than treat the performance like a solo show, the four singers worked together, building on each other’s strengths and creating a unified sound.
Tenor Jeff Hall is the effortlessly cool bandleader and arranger. Hall arranged each piece the group performed. Christina Watson is the dynamic soprano, hitting each stratospheric note with grace and precision. Christina’s solo rendition of “How Long Has This Been Going On?” not only astounded the audience by showcasing her unbelievably wide range, but it reminded everyone why she is one of the best female vocalists in Nashville. Alto Sandra Dudley brought a fun, dramatic energy to the stage, telling jokes and acting out the emotion in each line she sang. But, don’t let the antics fool you; her intentional and exact delivery is nothing to joke about. Holding the group together is bass Mark Stephens. While not featured as often as the other three, Stephens shined during his solo moments, even if his performance was a bit stiff.
Friday’s performance included such cuts from Third Coast’s debut album 3CV as “Fly to Forever,” a Lori Mechem/Donna McElroy original, “Flight of the Foo Birds,” and “Homecoming.” The group also debuted several new charts like “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” and the Barry Manilow/Johnny Mercer tune “When October Goes,” which was easily the best chart of the evening. Using an arranging trick that somehow didn’t feel cliche, Hall used “Autumn Leaves” as an introduction, then transitioned into the lesser known Manilow/Mercer tune. The singers did not solo as much as one would have imagined, but their second-set closer “Cookin’ at the Continental” gave the group (and let’s be honest, Jeff Hall in particular) a chance to showcase their (his) improv skills.