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Through All the Pain: René Marie Music Soothes the Souls of Spoleto
6/1/2016 3:21:07 PM

(l-r) Quentin Baxter, René Marie, Elias Bailey, Jonathan Chin, Wycliffe Gordon, Etienne Charles and Sherman Irby during their Sunday, May 29, 2016 Spoleto Festival USA performance. Photo: David Orr
By Hakim Abdul-Ali

There are certain jazz vocalists I love to hear because of the clarity of their voices and their distinctive styles of interpretations. Some are so unique until you know them from the first word or note they utter.

Such a performer in my ear sight is René Marie. Gifted in so many talented ways, she is simply a dynamic and soulful lady of jazz, with a smooth and infectious stage persona that makes you listen to her words with glee.

She was in the Holy City, as Charleston is sometimes referred to, for another Spoleto Festival USA concert on Sunday, May 29, 2016. This time she set a somewhat different tone than the other three occasions that she's been here for this celebrated annual musical extravaganza because of the recent horrific events that has taken place in the locale.

Being that so much has happened in and to the City of Charleston's image and its neighboring environs in the last year, René Marie's solo performance this year was simply a work of musical genius. She captivated the audience with a mixture of select songs mostly from her present album,"Sound of Red", that brought the audience to reflective auras about the fragility of life and forgiveness backed with hope and wisdom.

You had to be there in order to be into the transitory musical landscape that René Marie and her tight musicians weaved with precision and enjoyment. Regular band mates drummer Quentin Baxter, pianist John Chin and bassist Elias Bailey were expertly joined for this evening's event by Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Etienne Charles (trumpet) and special guest Sherman Irby (saxophone).

In an hour-long, eight song presentation, René Marie showed why she is so good at her craft. She struck this critic's attention with a poignant delivery of the song "Lost," a tune inspired by the relationship of growing up with and around her sister.

It was a touching tribute to all women's relationships with a sibling that most females in the audience easily related to. This Grammy-nominated singer knows how to put emotions into words with ease, but with a sensitivity born of experience and understanding.

She added "Colorado River Song" to the evening's musical menu with humor but affection as she recalled her experiences of canoeing on the Colorado River when she lived in that state. Singing as she did in a sweet and sultry style, along with pianist Chin's lilting piano in the background, René Marie made you want to try it for yourself as she melodically touched on the experience of life's equation to water rafting.

"Joy of Jazz" was another one of tunes from the new CD that had the audience wrapped around this superb vocalist's fingers. All of the songs were good until she introduce the mind-bender of a song called "Blessings," a tour-de-force message piece that's sure to be hit.

It's a song that was written and composed by René Marie, along with all of the others in her CD "Sound of Red," that says so much more about overcoming suffering, heartache and bitterness in the midst of some of life's worst trials. This sister sang this masterpiece, which I believe will become an instant classic anthem of uplift to any and all who are dealing with tragedies of any sort, to the ultimate delight of a packed audience in the beautiful new Charleston Gaillard Center.

With a soulfully delivered funky gospel-type groove accompanying her stimulating lyrics, René Marie sang her heart out as she let the audience know how she felt about all that the city has been going through. I'm telling you flat out that this tune was the absolute highlight of a grand performance.

After the concert, I had related to René Marie that I was really, really impressed by her and her band's performance and especially her song "Blessings." It's something that you really need to digest with a forgiving soul. You need to get a copy of her CD "Sound of Red," featuring the soon-to-be super hit "Blessings," because it's a one of a kind musical gem.

Once again, Spoleto Festival USA delivered entertainment relief to the city of Charleston through another splendid artistic choice. And even through all of the City's recent trials, tests, hurts and obvious pains, the sounds of René Marie and her illustrious musicians helped soothe some of its pains for, and on, at least one wondrous evening of music.

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