At the Jazz Arts Society's The Voice of Jazz concert in Market 5 Gallery Saturday night a hush fell over the capacity audience when Oscar Brown Jr. took the stage by storm with "Dat Dare," his own lyrics set to a Bobby Timmons instrumental. Brown, a master entertainer, sang, declaimed, mimed, danced and pranced. His voice can sob despair, rasp lasciviously, deliver a thunderous sermon and croon tenderly. His other tools of performance are a face of virtuosic malleability and a rubber body.
He mugged and boogied "Signifyin' Monkey," gravel-voiced a salasious "Take Me In, Tender Woman," screamed a tantrum on "Stay Cool," and said a poem with "A Woman." A vocalese "Entertainer" was a dramatic masterpiece and highlighted the fine backing of Brown's single accompanist, pianist Calvin Bronson.
Clea Bradford, who opened the concert, concluded her set with a wallshaking "Sometimes I'm Happy" that had her bouncing lines back and forth with drummer Bertell Knox, bassist Fred Williams, and pianist Ellsworth Gibson. It was a hard act to follow, but Ronnie Wells proved equal to the task as she stretched the phrasing of "Surrey with the Fringe on Top," skipping across its syllables at top speed, and later roared through an improvised medley that recapitulated her program.