NXNE Review: Elise LeGrow, Erin Hunt, June 18, Harlem Restaurant

– There have been times at NXNE where I’ve run from one venue to the next in a desperate attempt to see and hear everything that could possibly be seen and heard. This year I decided that my new rule of thumb is no more than two venues per evening. The new plan is to minimize the hopping and get friendly with the locals and the locales. The night began at the Harlem restaurant with some sultry jazz in the form of sultry sultry Elise LeGrow.

Some people are surprised to hear that, although I am huge jazz fan, I’m not typically into the vocalists. While I do have a soft spot for the old greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, much of today’s fare strikes me as more adult contemporary. It’s perfectly innocuous music that features prominently on many a jazz radio station. Listening to a snippet of it can be like having a popsicle on a nice summer day. Too much and it’s more like cotton candy laced with bubblegum and sprinkles all melting together on an uncomfortable humid day with a smog warning in effect. That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate contemporary jazz vocalists out there; as was evident by the first show of the evening.

Elise LeGrow is a Toronto-based songstress that has both the voice and charisma that evokes the great jazz women of yesterday. She sang a mix of both contemporary songs and classics for a small and appreciative audience at the Harlem. I have to admit her stage presence was so captivating that it was a trying affair to concentrate on the music. While making her way through the set, she bobbed up and down and playfully ran her hands through her hair at all the right times. It was so incredibly distracting that I spent the better part of the hour looking around my environment for some kind of materials that I could use to a fashion a makeshift engagement ring. Did I mention her sultriness?

If there was one thing that I was a little lacking in the performance, it had nothing to do with Miss LeGrow herself. While her band provided some solid backing, I could imagine that the addition of some musical reinforcements would really kick things up a notch. Hers is a stylish and elegant music that is perfectly suited to a classy little downtown restaurant like the Harlem. I wonder what she would sound like if we added the authentic woody thump of real double-bass, and swapped out the electronic keyboard with a baby grand? With that kind of setup, a snifter of brandy, and some arts & craft type ring making materials, I’d be as happy as a kid with cotton candy.

The next set at the Harlem was Toronto-based Erin Hunt and her groove-based funk and R&B band. She started things off with a rendition of Crosstown Traffic. I could tell during from the noodling by the guitarist during the band setup that we were in store for some really groovy stuff. Easily the highlight of this set was the work of guitarist Ricky Tillo who showcased both amazing chops and an excellent sense of rhythm. I wish he could have had more freedom to stretch his legs.

In the previous set, the backing band needed some shoring up to match the talent up front. In this set, it was the opposite dilemma. Erin didn’t have the vocals or stage presence that could captivate the audience. What she did have was a kick-ass band that I would not hesitate to go see in a purely instrumental incarnation. Unfortunately she made a few gaffs that weren’t terribly endearing. She forgot the name of her drummer when introducing the band. Then when encouraging people to stay for the next set, she admitted that she didn’t know what band was following her, but was “sure they were good”. Not the classiest move of the evening.

I’d definitely go see that guitarist again in any other setting though.

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, North By Northeast