By Nicole Itkin

Karen Akers’ encore performance of “Water Under the Bridge” at BIRDLAND JAZZ CLUB was a lovely depiction of her life and career. With musical director Alex Rybeck on piano and Tom Hubbard on bass, she sings songs that tell the tales of her life, and tells the tales of her life as precursors for the songs.

Akers starts with a medley of “Among my Souvenirs” by Edgar Leslie and Horatio Nicholls and “Walking Among my Yesterdays,” by Kander and Ebb, a reminder of how objects can throw you back into the past, and how it can be so tempting to stay in that past. It’s the perfect start to a nostalgic but ultimately uplifting evening. 

Akers continues with songs about young love, about being a sixteen year old teenage queen under a sky full of stars with Amanda McBroom’s “Reynosa.” She confides in us as to how two people in a relationship can have such different recollections of events with Molly Drake’s “I Remember,” which has lyrics like “I remember firelight / and you remember smoke” and “I remember willow trees / and you remember gnats.” She finishes this section with Dan Hill’s “Sometimes when we Touch”– oh, the honesty of touch! Sometimes it shows us everything we’re not willing to say.

The more she sings about love, the more she has to say about it. But the way she approaches saying what she wants to is never bitter. It’s always with fond, sheepish, joyful recollection–proud of what’s happened, never wanting to fundamentally change any of it, not really. And so, she weaves in tales about her twenty-year cycles of love.

She sings of her years as a young mother with Craig Carnelia’s “Just a Housewife,” about defending and questioning love. She sings about new love in Lieber and Stoller’s “Ready to Begin Again.” And she tells us how all of it–the pain and the past and the joy–it’s all “Water under the Bridge”–Stephen Sondheim’s song, and the title song for the evening. 

The catalog of the evening included a ton of beautiful songs–from Sonheim to Joni Mitchell. Still, I have to say that my favorite song of the evening was Leon Rosselson’s “Conversations on a Mobile”– a witty song with lyrics that include: “‘Hello, are you still there’ / I said “I’m here” / She said “I’m there” / I said “What is this all about?” / She said: “My battery’s running low.” It’s a funny song that fits into the chatty and communicative feeling of the evening, but in a really unique way; Akers nails the back and forth of the conversation, the rising tension, the love and the confusion.   

The songs, joined with narrative interludes, tell a cohesive and interesting tale. Akers is a commanding presence, so comfortable that she makes the fairly large space feel intimate. The applause is loud, sometimes staggeringly so, in support for Akers and the evening she created. 

This was a one-day special: Karen Akers gave an encore performance, of “Water Under the Bridge” at BIRDLAND JAZZ CLUB on Monday, May 27 with musical director Alex Rybeck on piano and Tom Hubbard on bass.