It was a Baltimore jazz reunion last night at the King of France Tavern in Annapolis. Ethel Ennis -- often compared to another Baltimore singer, Billie Holliday -- officially launched her reactivated career. Baltimore guitarist O'Donel Levy took time from his recording work in Los Angeles just for the occasion. And young pianist Charles Covington showed the potential to equal the exploits of his better-known neighbors.
The musicians kept grinning and nudging each other as they savored the chance to play together. But there were plenty of dividends for the audience in the set of pop songs pumped full of jazz nuance. Levy's darting, stinging guitar notes swarmed around the rich honeycomb of Ennis' voice.As Ennis commented after a sassy, syncopated version of a Captain & Tenille tune: "If they ever heard it, they'd say, "What happened to our song?'"
On Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are," Ennis stretched each syllable until it had a saxophone's resonance. On Miles Davis' "So What," Levy reeled off notes so fast that every other one seemed a footnote on the theme. Covington and drummer Bob Wyatt challenged the leaders on every measure.
Last night was a tune-up for the taping of a possible live album at tonight's and tomorrow night's shows. The quintet continues at King of France through Sept. 16.