©Brett Delmage, 2018
In her GigSpace show, Diane Nalini expressively sang favourite jazz and jazzified tunes in French, Portuguese, Spanish, and English, along some of her own compositions in those languages. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Diane Nalini
Friday, October 12, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

In a vivacious and entertaining trio show Friday, vocalist Diane Nalini demonstrated that jazz can originate in many lands and be communicated in many languages.

Nalini has traveled around the world, including studying in England and Australia. Well-known as the resident vocalist for the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra, she's recently presented several of her own trio shows. For this concert at GigSpace, she teamed up with Ottawa jazz stalwarts John Geggie on double bass and Mark Ferguson on piano and trombone.

She described this show as “a musical journey across the Americas” but those used to just the Great American Songbook would have felt some cognitive dissonance. Up first was a song in French, then one in Portuguese, then a Spanish number, before Nalini finally sang in English. In fact, only a quarter of the songs on the set list were in English. Even the Cole Porter number was one of the few he co-wrote with French lyrics!

But at the same time, the feel and the style of the music was emphatically jazz, and definitely crowd-pleasing. It included jazz classics, jazz interpretations of pop songs, and several originals by Nalini.

Even for those not quadrilingual, it was easy enough to get the gist of the songs, especially since Nalini first introduced each number in English. She sang each song clearly and with good diction and accent (the Spanish and the Portuguese were noticeably different in sound) – as well as with considerable feeling and expression.

Nalini not only sings in four languages; she also writes lyrics in them. Her opening number, “Tout débrancher”, was one she wrote in French. It was a plea for less obsession with electronic technology in our everyday lives, to “unplug everything”. It had a classic jazz cabaret feel, sung invitingly over sleek bass and piano, with the lyrics unrolling easily over the accompaniment.

She followed that up with a song made famous by the renowned Brazilian samba singer Elizete Cardoso, but not often performed in North America. “Canção de amor” means “love song”, and Nalini sang it in Portuguese, giving it a silky and soft feel, with a happy vibe and a touch of sexiness. Her scatting to the melody partway through was matched by Ferguson's effervescent piano lines.

Nalini told the audience that her Portuguese comes from family connections: her mother was from Goa, a former Portuguese colony in India, and her grandmother's first language was Portuguese. She also has an uncle who has lived in Brazil for four decades.

“Veinte años” (Twenty Years) was from Cuba, a bittersweet love song which Nalini sang in Spanish. She immersed herself in the song, again matched by a piano solo which embroidered the melody. At the end, there was almost a sob in her voice at the remembrance of a lost love. She explained afterwards that the last line could be roughly translated as “a piece of your soul that is ripped out of you without pity”, and it's so dramatic it's difficult not to overstate it.

Ferguson and Geggie have had decades of experience performing with vocalists and you could hear their ease and intelligence in enhancing the music. All through the show, their playing accented Nalini's vocals, adding depth, swing, and jazzy interest to the music. For example, Geggie's mournful and edged bowed bass lines in “Lua, Lua” with deep held notes underlined the theme of exile in that song.

I particularly enjoyed Ferguson and Nalini's vivid vocal-trombone duet in Carol King's “Smackwater Jack”, with Geggie holding the song together with a strong melodic and propulsive double bass line that invited the audience to tap their feet or clap in time.

In the Brazilian bossa nova number “O Barquinho”, Ferguson used his trombone to underline Nalini's vocals with a rougher version of the melody and then expanded on it in his solo, while Geggie on bass and Nalini on ukulele expressed the song's gentle, rocking rhythms, like a boat on the sea.

Nalini explained that she wrote the lyrics to “L’amour d’autrefois” when she was studying in England at the invitation of a British composer, Dick Walter. He had a melody, but he really thought it should have words in French. They recorded it, and then five years later she started receiving royalties for it after it was included in a film soundtrack.

The song had a a dramatic, almost Piaf-like feel, what Nalini described as “that mid-20th-century sound”, and she expressed its sombre, elegiac feeling well.

Nalini included songs she had written for the four CDs she has so far released. “Les petites choses” (the little things in life) was her effort to “maintain a sense of wonder”. She sang it with a smile in her voice, and the bright rhythm in her vocals was echoed and expanded by the bass and piano solos. In contrast, her “Cuando sale la luna” was about the night and the joy of astronomy, about the change in perception that happens when night falls and the moon comes out. It was a rich mix of celebratory vocals over simple but full piano and bass.

“Mundos escondidos” also reflected Nalini's scientific background (she has a PhD in physics from Oxford University). She wrote it while studying in Australia, after seeing actual galaxies in the night sky with her naked eye (the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which are only visible from the southern hemisphere). Seeing them inspired her to think what hidden worlds might be out there.

She opened the song by singing wordlessly, a solemn and beautiful melody echoed by the piano and later by a deep vibrating bowed bass solo, before moving into sincere and gentle vocals in Portuguese.

I particularly liked “The Last Hurrah”, a song Nalini wrote out of her frustration about the wealthy not listening to the problems in the world. It was a blues which featured ironic and pointed lyrics over an insinuating melody and resonant bass line, reminding me of Gil Scott-Heron.

The show was sold out, and the audience was enthusiastic throughout, strongly applauding songs and solos. The trio closed with Cole Porter's sophisticated and saucy “C’est magnifique”, in which Nalini persuaded the crowd to join in happily on the “magnifique”. She gave it an assured performance, full of verve, and the audience responded with strong and extended applause.

Set List

Set 1:

  1. Tout débrancher / Diane Nalini
  2. Canção de amor / Dorival Silva and Elano de Paula
  3. Veinte años / Guillermina Aramburu, Maria Teresa Vera
  4. Smackwater Jack / Carole King and Gerry Goffen
  5. Soledad y el mar / Natalia Lafourcade and David Aguilar
  6. L’amour d’autrefois / Dick Walter, Diane Nalini
  7. Lua, lua, lua / Caetano Veloso
  8. Straighten up and fly right / Nat King Cole

Set 2:

  1. Les petites choses / Diane Nalini
  2. Cuando sale la luna / Diane Nalini
  3. The last hurrah / Diane Nalini
  4. Flores del Alma / Alfredo L. Palacios and Lito Bayardo, Juan Larenza
  5. O Barquinho / Roberto Menescal, Ronaldo Esquerdo Bosconi
  6. Blue Lei / R. Alex Anderson and Milton Beimer
  7. Mundos escondidos / Diane Nalini
  8. C’est magnifique / Cole Porter, François Lienas

Read related stories by OttawaJazzScene.ca: