Sheila Jordan | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sheila Jordan 

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Sheila Jordan's voice resists even the most benign adulterations to retain its odd artistic power. For instance, her new album (Heart Strings, on Muse) finds Jordan in front of a string quartet, which should form an attractive and romantic cushion; yet the rarefied colors of this accompaniment actually end up accentuating the reedy elasticity of her voice. Like Billie Holiday--whom Jordan resembles in spirit, but not in manner--she eschews the merely pretty, finds the improvised notes nobody else wanted, and revels in the naked purity of her somewhat unorthodox vocal instrument. In her improvising she'll often allow the notes to slide into moans, the words to slur into blowsy neologisms. (These sinuous melismas--along with her rhythmically tense scat solos--have helped teach the two generations of jazz vocalists since how to shed their musical and emotional inhibitions.) And when she wrings a song line to squeeze out its essence, her alterations highlight the strength of the original melodies--the strength that can support her expansive, discursive departures. Jordan, a New Yorker, will celebrate her birthday in Chicago, at one of her favorite venues with some of her favorite musicians--her longtime partner Harvie Swartz, a bassist with monumental tone, dart-sharp technique, and remarkable sensitivity, and Chicagoans Brad Williams (piano) and Mike Friedman (drums). Friday, 8 PM, and Saturday, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 878-5552.

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