Led by American expatriates on ECM records, the recent European impressionist jazz movement has produced a music of transparent watercolors compared to the heavy oils of American jazz. Influenced by the European art-song tradition, the movement has emphasized acoustic over amplified instruments, austere melodies over dissonant assault, nuance over power.
So far vocalists have played a small role in that movement. but Sheila Jordan should change that. In a one-night stand at Blues Alley yesterday the singer held her own with three well-extablished ECM artists: pianist Steve Kuhn, bassist Harvie Swartz and drummer Bob Moses. In a set of standards and originals, Jordan displayed the best qualities of the movement: delicate note shading and purposeful clarity.
Jordan does not have an extraordinary voice, but does have an acute musical intelligence. During her scat solo on Kuhn's "Deep Tango," her carefully measured pauses shaped the song as much as the geysers of syllables. On Oscar Brown Jr.'s "Dat Dere," she bent her breathy notes a quarter tone -- much as Swartz did by bending his bass strings.
Swartz, a member of ECM's Double Image quartet, made his bass a frontline instrument. Even notes in the middle of his charging solos were given a rich resonance by his plucking and squeezing. Moses created a finely calibrated range of middle tones on his drums. Kuhn played with his usual non-confining control.
The quartet has already recorded a forthcoming album called "Kuhn's Songs." Based on last night's sample, the record should be a real pleasure.