Kendra Shank | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Kendra Shank 

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KENDRA SHANK

New York-based singer Kendra Shank has built a career in jazz the old-fashioned way. Like musicians from Coleman Hawkins to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, she established herself in Europe--she lived and worked in Paris for most of the 90s, then headed back to the States in 1997 to enjoy her reputation. She released her debut, Afterglow (Mapleshade), while still abroad, and it caused such a stir in New York that the buzz surrounding her follow-up, last year's Wish (Jazz Focus), almost drowned out the music. Shank has a mature, intelligent voice, dark and sensuous, playful but never girlish. Her tone is clear, but she doesn't hesitate to get it dirty. She studied with the iconoclastic Jay Clayton, and her bounding, courageous solos sometimes bring to mind Kurt Elling (though she started her career first), bridging the gap between singing and speaking or even between music and noise. On Wish this comes through best on her arrangement of the traditional folk ballad "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair": after caressing the verses, Shank launches into a growling, distorted solo that ends in banshee ululations. She has some problems with up-tempo tunes, at least on the album: "You and the Night and the Music" taxes her capacity for inventive phrasing, and on the admittedly tricky "You Say You Care" her intonation wanders so far off the map she could use a GPS receiver. But on most of the record--which also includes a couple of Abbey Lincoln's better tunes, a gorgeous ballad called "A Lover's Lie," and her own soulful, sexy lyric to the title track--she intoxicates with a combination of power and perfume. For Shank's Chicago debut, drummer Anthony Pinciotti returns from New York to join the redoubtable Bradley Williams on piano and Dan DeLorenzo on bass. Friday, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. Shank also gives a free in-store performance Saturday at 1 PM at Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467. NEIL TESSER

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