Music Review: Jazz vocalist Dara Tucker lights up Nashville’s Jazz Cave

daraThe challenge for any contemporary jazz performer, vocalist or instrumentalist, is to strike a balance between mastery of traditional requirements and an approach that is fresh and personal.

Dara Tucker consistently excelled in both ways throughout her show last Friday at the Nashville Jazz Workshop’s Jazz Cave. The concert was designed to spotlight her third studio release “The Sun Season.”

Idiomatic versatility and stylistic flexibility are Tucker’s prime assets, along with a charismatic stage presence and dynamic, impressive sound. As someone who came to Nashville in pursuit of both a songwriting and performing career, Tucker’s uninterested in restricting herself to the jazz vocal canon, though she certainly does standards in a captivating, commanding manner.

But by opening the show with a gorgeous version of “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying,” augmented by a soothing but intense trumpet contribution from Rod McGaha, Tucker immediately let everyone know there were no limitations on what material would be covered that evening.

Whether it was a Dan Fogelberg tune or a powerful version of Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things,” written for the 1935 musical “Jubilee,” Tucker handled the lyrics with flair and ease.

Her timing, diction and execution reflect a jazz singer’s penchant for interpretative punch and communicative edge, but she also enjoys incorporating influences from other genres.

The daughter of a music minister, Tucker twice tapped that background for compelling versions of gospel numbers.

The strongest was a poignant “It Is Well With My Soul,” a tune anyone familiar with a Baptist Hymnal knows can truly stir emotions. Her passionate treatment temporarily turned the intimate jazz club vibe into one of deep spirituality.

But in addition to her masterful covers, the night was a showcase for Tucker’s originals. This included “Time Is On Our Side,” “Sun, See Through Me,” and “Waiting for the Sun,” each a variation of the sun theme, but all done in memorable, energetic fashion.

Over two lengthy sets and nearly two hours stage time, Tucker’s enthusiasm never wavered, as she smartly varied the flow and pace to keep the audience both engaged and delighted.

She was assisted by some of the city’s finest musicians. Besides McGaha, there was her bassist husband Greg Bryant, whom she called the “anchor of the recording and my rock.” Joe Davidian on piano and Nioshi Jackson on drums were the ideal rhythm section, always attuned to any shifts or vocal moves Tucker might make, yet able to interject colorful and strong personal statements in limited solo space within the arrangements.

Guitarist James DaSilva, percussionist Giovanni Rodriquez and harmonica soloist Ben Graves were three other key contributors, as well as violinist Elizabeth Estes, who added some sparkling support and solos to two numbers.

Dara Tucker’s “The Sun Season” is definitely among the finest vocal releases available this season in either jazz or pop. Her Friday night performance was another indicator of her status as one of Nashville’s best and most versatile singers and songwriters.

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About Ron Wynn

Ron Wynn is a music critic, author and editor. His features, reviews and articles have run locally in the Nashville Scene, The City Paper (Nashville) and on ArtNowNashville.com among others. Wynn is currently sports editor for the Tennessee Tribune and a contributor to Jazz Times. He is former editor of the New Memphis Star and former chief jazz and pop music critic for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wynn has contributed to such publications such as Billboard, The Village Voice, Creem, Rock & Roll Disc, Living Blues, The Boston Phoenix, and Rejoice. He was the editor of the first edition of The All Music Guide to Jazz (1994), and from 1993 to 1994 served as the jazz and rap editor of the All Music Guide. Wynn is the author of The Tina Turner Story. He has contributed liner notes for numerous albums; his liner notes for “The Soul of Country Music” received a 1998 Grammy nomination.