For Naptownmusic By Houston Zemanski
Interestingly enough, the ukulele has been a mainstay in jazz since it's immigration to mainland America in the early 1900's. Portable, inexpensive, and relatively easy to learn, it's popularity grew to supplement the boom in household radio. People who couldn't normally afford an instrument could play along with their favorite songs of the age. In the hands of Victoria Vox, who graced a small audience at 49 West earlier this February, the uke became a tool of enchantment as it rung out over the mellow sensuousness of Annapolis jazz juggernauts, the Unified Jazz Ensemble.
As the set continued, it became clear that Vox is a tough artist to pigeonhole. With the UJE playing behind her, the feeling was certainly jazzy, but notes of soul, country, mambo, and even progressive rock bled through the performance. My only complaint is that the variety made it tough to focus on just one element of Vox as a performer. That being said, over the course of nine releases, an artist is expected to change their tune considerably. Vox does maintain a pop sensibility through nearly all of her songs. There is a bubbly-ness in her voice that almost shirks the jazz label entirely.
A few songs stood out to me throughout the night. The first was heavily soul influenced, the first time in the set that Vox chose to show the sultry muscle that her voice can be. Another song that peaked my interest was “Sweetest Melodies.” I'm a sucker for off kilter rhythms, so the use of 5/4 had me swooning a bit. It also made me aware of how difficult it is to use odd time signatures in pop and escape the obvious Peter Gabriel tag that attaches itself therein. “Lookin' for a Man” gave UJE a bit more slack on the leash, and was equally pleasant and impressive musically. As an aside, John Pineda has a way with strong, deliberate bass lines. Mike Noonan is simply a genius. The piano sung all night with ease and intelligence. I realized that until that night, I hadn't seen a pianist with soul and brilliance. Dominic Smith took liberties all night with his range; delicate and ethereal when they need to be, punctual and experimental when the song called for it. It bolstered Vox's performance to a height I don't believe could have been achieved otherwise.
I won't leave out just how hilarious Vox can be with her banter and exploits. She is a pure and simple entertainer. She has a line of underwear available for sale on her website, cracked jokes all night, and invited the audience to join in on the chorus of “You're No Island.”
Let me conclude by admitting that I wasn't able to stay for the entire performance. Almost like watching half of a movie, or reading a book halfway through, one can never know what the effect of a show is when leaving early. That being said, I will certainly be back to see the Unified Jazz Ensemble, who play49 West every Tuesday from 8:30-11:30 at night. I will also be looking out for Vox on Towson's WTMD, as she mentioned she is now getting airplay for her newest album: When the Night Unravels.
Victoria Vox at 49 West Coffeehouse, Winebar & Gallery, 7pm