René Marie’s “Experiment in Truth” Quartet

René Marie is a smart, fearless singer.  Her style is sly and shimmering, tough and tender—and while she may remind you at times of Betty Carter or Dinah Washington (or Nancy Wilson or Nina Simone), Marie is very much her own woman.  Given her singular voice and her authoritative stage presence, it might be hard to believe that she didn’t sing professionally until after she turned 40—and that the self-discovery she achieved through singing gave her the courage to leave an abusive marriage. Married at 18, mother of two by 23, the Virginia native joined a strict religious group and focused for many years on raising a family. It was in 1996 that her eldest son, then in college, urged her to take the plunge and pursue a career in music. Two years later, her husband issued an ultimatum: stop singing or leave their home.  You can guess which option she chose.

What followed was a whirlwind of critical acclaim; a string of lively, standards-oriented albums featuring A-list sidemen like pianist Mulgrew Miller, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts; and headliner status at major clubs, festivals and concert halls at home and abroad.  (Marie is a favorite, for instance, at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the marquee performance space of Jazz at Lincoln Center.)

It was with her final album for the straight-ahead MaxJazz label that Marie really began to come into her own as a singer-songwriter, however.  The aptly titled Serene Renegade featured nine originals; its follow-up, the self-released Experiment in Truth(2007), seven more.  Next came a one-woman performance piece, Slut Energy Theory, then Voice of My Beautiful Country, Marie’s first release for forward-thinking indie Motéma Music.  There she lays out an expansive notion of the Great American Songbook that goes well beyond Tin Pan Alley to encompass folk, gospel, blues, rock, and R&B—everything from “John Henry” to “Just My Imagination” to Jefferson Airplane.  But the album’s centerpiece is its title suite, a jazz- and soul-tinged medley that radically reimagines patriotic anthems, setting their familiar lyrics over fresh, sometimes improvised, melodies.  The approach follows a 2008 dust-up in Denver in which Marie was invited to sing the national anthem at the Mayor’s State of the City address.  She put the lyrics of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” to the melody of the Star Spangled Banner, an act that touched off a firestorm of vitriol and abuse—even death threats. (There was some praise and admiration, too.) No wonder Marie’s self-described “love song to America” is marked by what W.E.B. DuBois famously called “double consciousness”; no wonder, too, that her music has unflinchingly addressed topics like homelessness, sexual abuse, and racial and social injustice.

With her latest release, the slyly titled Black Lace Freudian Slip, Marie punctuates her declaration of artistic independence.  “I drink imported wine right out of the bottle; I stare right into the eyes of an eclipse,” go the lyrics of the title track.  “It took a whole lot of preparation, a lot of contracts signed / But I paid my obligations and I freed my mind.”  Turns out people like her way of taking liberties: last year, she took “Rising Star Female Vocalist” in the DownBeatCritics Poll.  Rising?  It’s pretty clear to us that her star has already risen.

The other members of “Experiment in Truth”—pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Elias Bailey, and drummer/arranger Quentin Baxter—have a long history together.  They swing hard and improvise with soul, and they’re totally devoted to Marie’s music…and to each other.

(adapted from renemarie.com)


Tickets ($15 General Admission, $10 Students & Seniors) are available here at our website, or at Wildberries, Wildwood Music, People’s Records, and The Works.

Rene Marie will also present an open, pre-concert public workshop on the HSU campus on the afternoon of April 25 (exact time and place TBA; watch this space). People of all levels of experience are welcome to attend, and admission is FREE.

 

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  • $15 / $10 students/seniors
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