By Ed Kliszus
Wendy Moten ascended to the Birdland stage with a smile and charm that lit up the room. From her first words and the comfortable swing tempo of her first song, All of Me, Moten emerged as a poised, expressive, and consummate artist. She conveyed her passionate insights with a beautiful, clear voice and thro
ugh her ability to command any genre she desired. Moten was accompanied by world-class musicians Andy Ezrin on piano, David M. Santos on electric bass, Graham Hawthorne on drums, and Paul Livant on guitar. It was an evening of R & B country, jazz, the American Songbook, pop, rock, and ineffable beauty.
Moten explained that tonight was a musical journey. Through her words and song, she unfolded her story of nostalgia, perseverance, and the wisdom garnered from a life well lived. More than that, we discovered that each song embodied Moten’s self-effacing tributes to the artistry of other musical greats.
Moten’s artistic line-up was varied and fabulous. She continued with a richly expressive romantic rendition of Nature Boy of Nat King Cole fame that segued into a gentle rumba beat and guitar solo. Next was Ain’t No Way , as memorialized by Aretha Franklin, and Someone to Watch Over Me, in which Moten honored the flawless artistry and vocal purity of Ella Fitzgerald.
Diverging from the American songbook and reminding us of her Nashville roots, Moten delivered Bobby Gentry’s 1967 country blues tune Ode to Billy Joe. And, “Do you watch Saturday Night Live? she asked.” Yes, because there Paul Simon performed his Still Crazy After All These Years. Moten treated us similarly, with Andy Ezrin sliding from his grand piano to his synthesizer. As many closed their eyes, Moten transported us into 1975 with Janis Ian’s poetic and insightful At Seventeen.
The delectation of classic, beautiful songs continued in an arc of chiaroscuro musical settings, including Richard Whiting’s I Can’t Escape From You, Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, Arethra Franklin’s Since You’ve Been Gone, and Moten’s Patti LaBelle inspired version of Over the Rainbow. Moten’s performance of her own 90s hit Come In Out Of The Rain was fabulous and showed how an audience could groove from their seats.
Andy Ezrin and Wendy Moten at Birdland. Photo credit: Edward Kliszus
Moten’s gentle unpretentiousness was a bright and unexpected gentle light in the world of popular music. We may see her as a diva, but it’s in her own charming way. You may recall her most recent venture in NBC’s The Voice 2021. Many are also aware of her incredible emergence in the 90s and recordings with fellow luminaries like Michael McDonald, Julio Iglesias, Kirk Whalum, Peabo Bryson, Vince Gill, Keb’ Mo’, Buddy Guy, Paul Brown, John Oates, and Blake Shelton.
Of special note was Moten’s exquisite, heart-rendering performance of Someone to Watch Over Me. Andy Ezrin’s piano introduction and accompaniment characterized an expressive apotheosis as if exploring introspective elements drawn from the psyche of pianist Bill Evans. The pairing of the singer and accompanist was perfect. As Bill Evans once noted, “Music should enrich the soul; it should teach spirituality by showing a person a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise.” This and more took place tonight.
Wendy Moten at Birdland
Andy Ezrin on piano
David M. Santos on bass
Graham Hawthorne on drums
Paul Livant on guitar.
315 West 44th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues)
New York, NY 10036
For reservations call (212) 581-3080
For information or tickets, go to www.BirdlandJazz.com.