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Kellylee Evans charms Montreal audience with hip-hop and jazz (review)

Ottawa singer Kellylee Evans communicated her music with all of herself at her two outdoor concerts on the main stage of the 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Kellylee Evans
Scène Rio Tinto Alcan
Montreal Jazz Festival
Wednesday, July 3, 2013 – 10 p.m.

View photos of this concert

It only took one song for Ottawa vocalist Kellylee Evans to have a late-night Montreal Jazz Festival audience in the palm of her hand.

Playing on the festival's huge main outdoor stage, Evans did two back-to-back free shows, at 8 and 10 p.m. It was a hot, muggy night and the concrete and asphalt of rue Ste. Catherine didn't make the area any cooler. But at the later concert, she appeared just as energetic as though she hadn't played a show an hour before.

Evans was hit by lightning in a freak accident in her kitchen a month ago. She's still recovering from that strike, which meant she sat for almost all the concert. This is highly atypical for her: usually she's running across the stage, expressing the energy of the music with her entire body. This time, instead, she gestured and clapped frequently and occasionally kicked up her legs in time. Sometimes she stood and danced in place for a minute or two. She still clearly communicated the music with all of herself.

The crowd was initially quiet – one man I talked to had never heard of Evans before – but at least in the section near the front where I was listening, very few people left. Almost everyone stood for the full hour, listening intently and frequently swaying with the music.

Evans' latest album, I Remember When, released this spring, was a departure for her – her previous album was a tribute to jazz icon Nina Simone. This time, she used hip-hop music as a springboard for compositions, but there was still a considerable jazz flair.

She opened this concert with the first track from the new CD: “My Name Is”. It turned into an extended call-and-response version, high-energy and building to a strong climax. The song is inspired by two of Eminem's songs, “My Name Is” and “Stan”, and there was a constant, hard hip-hop bass beat at the bottom of the music.

Evans entered clapping her hands above her head, and then put her heart into singing the lyrics. Michael Shand on keyboards took over partway through, with a strong instrumental break. The energy steadily increased with repetitions of “My name is” becoming faster and more intense, until Evans asked the crowd, on the count of three, to shout out their own names (which many did), and she replied with hers.

The rest of the hour-long concert was similarly high-octane: a full-bodied mixture of fast, complex drumming from Larnell Lewis, rich organ-like lines on keyboards and fast piano riffs, and intense guitar, often effect-laden. And over it all was Evans' clear, flexible voice, sometimes snapping out the lyrics, sometimes soaring over the music.

Recognizing this was bilingual Montreal, Evans introduced the songs at length to the audience in both French and English, with a big smile and lots of charm and exuberance. The crowd extended back for a considerable distance down the Ste. Catherine plaza, although it was nowhere packed so tightly that the beer servers couldn't get through.

The set-list was a mixture of songs from I Remember When and Nina, plus two French chansons. Evans has a strong fan base in France, and has repeatedly toured there – and the French songs were definite crowd-pleasers for the Montreal audience .

Particularly notable was “Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood” from Nina, which featured stronger underlying beats than on that record, an eloquent bass duet and solo from Wesley Allen, and Evans using her voice to fully express the hurt and grief in the lyrics.

The only part of the show I thought didn't work was the very loud repetitive hard bass beat, in hip-hop style, which was inserted into some songs where it wasn't as appropriate or necessary. Evans already added the hip-hop feel by adapting her vocal style to be more beatbox in tempo, which worked well in the musical context.

The last number, “Lose Yourself” from I Remember When, had a strong jazz fusion feel in the instrumentals, with a fierce lead guitar solo from Rich Grossman, and dramatic start and stop vocals. The crowd was jumping up and clapping as it neared its climax, and then strongly called for an encore.

Evans came on again after a minute, surrounded by her musicians carrying lights, and sang a short, simple, and heartfelt version of "La Vie en Rose", with the audience singing along. It was a memorable ending to a concert that likely won her some new fans.

    – Alayne McGregor

Set list:

  1. My Name Is
  2. Jungle
  3. Mood Indigo
  4. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
  5. Désolé
  6. And So We Dance
  7. I Remember When
  8. Lose Yourself

View photos of this concert

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All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2013
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