There’s a perverse, painful pleasure in recalling a particular New York Times Magazine essay by David Hajdu back in December 2000. The piece was ostensibly a profile/critique of the rising young jazz vocal star Jane Monheit. In fact, it was a finely argued variation on the old theme “What’s Wrong with Jazz Today.” (Hey, we all write them.) Hajdu recalled seeing the young Monheit a couple of years previously and having no special memory of her except for a thick mane of brown hair and a musical ability shared by scores of other talented young singers on the New York scene. And besides, he added for his lead paragraph’s kicker, “I already knew who the Next Thing in jazz singing would be: Dominique Eade.” Eade, he pointed out, had it all: she was “an impossibly versatile vocalist, composer, lyricist and instrumental arranger” who also “happened to be delicately attractive and blond.”
SIMPLICITY: Eade’s jazz side and Wilson’s folk-pop side complement each other.
Eade’s Boston fans know the rest of the story. At the time of Hajdu’s essay, she’d just been dropped by RCA, after making two brilliant albums for the label. Hajdu was in essence using creative artists like Eade and Cassandra Wilson and Patricia Barber and Nora York to beat up on the best-selling standards-only singers of the time: Monheit, Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr.
The scene has changed somewhat since then. Wilson has maintained her own kind of stardom, Connick’s gone to Broadway, Norah Jones and Madeleine Peyroux have entered the scene, and Krall is writing songs with husband Elvis Costello. Eade meanwhile, has slowed down a bit and regrouped — to teach and to raise her two young sons with husband Allan Chase, who like her teaches at New England Conservatory. There have still been plenty of local gigs, and short jaunts to Europe and elsewhere. And her fans have had the pleasure of seeing her warmly reviewed when she played New York.
If there’s any pain left from those post-RCA days, Eade’s not showing it. When we get together for breakfast in Kenmore Square, she’s as engaged and outgoing as ever, dressed in striped pants and leather jacket and at 48 still a beauty. Open (Jazz Project), a duo session with 24-year-old pianist and NEC grad Jed Wilson, is her first CD since that last RCA release, The Long Way Home, in 2000. (They play the Regattabar this Tuesday.) “This record was pulling myself together business-wise. It was like, all right, I have all these things, I’ve been playing them for people, people have been reacting to them, I have to take the next step. So I took a business step for artistic reasons — because you have to clear the house to make room for more stuff!”
Working in a duo with Wilson was a leap. She’d heard him in different contexts when he was at NEC including recitals where he accompanied some of her vocal students. When she had a gig with her band and long-time guitarist Mick Goodrick was unable to make it, she called Wilson. “From the first note we played together in rehearsal, I thought, ‘This is something special.’ ” Her sets with her bands always include a duo segment, and in this case it was particularly good. “Jed came along at the right time. It made perfect sense for the kind of language I was writing with. His interest in song and melody and lyric goes across genre. He’s listening for that in everything, and that kind of drew out my singer-songwriter side, which had been brewing anyway.”
Seven out of the 11 tracks on Open are Eade originals, and they blend that singer-songwriter side and her jazz side with uncommon grace. “Go Gently to the Water” has a hymnal feel, and “Open Letter” leans toward Joni Mitchell — but then, Mitchell is the jazziest of the singer-songwriters, and Eade takes a left turn on the bridge with a nod toward Jobim’s “One Note Samba.” The twists and turns and odd structure of “Ct Bridge” and “Series of One” are a match for her typically unusual choice from the American Songbook repertoire, Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh’s “You Fascinate Me So.” And Wilson brought Leonard Cohen’s “In My Secret Life” to the session.
Eade’s singing is typified by humor, daring, control, and honesty. She doesn’t trick up the emotions in her songs with exaggerated “jazzy” syncopations or “soulful” melismas. On the verse of “Series of One” she doesn’t seem to draw a breath, but it’s got to be in there somewhere — the “series” of revelations is meant to be a breathless “one.” Her vocal control is perfect for Leigh’s witty lyrics, as when she jumps up in register from the title phrase to sing, “I feel like Christopher Columbus when I’m near enough to contemplate the sweet geography descending from your eyebrow to your toes.” When “fascinate” morphs into the comic “aggravate” and “irritate” in the final chorus, she doesn’t go for the Broadway hard sell but lets her sure carriage of the melody and the text and her simpático with Wilson deliver the message.