Review by Jonathan Widran – Jazzologist. Read the original story below, or click here.
Are there any independent, up and coming jazz performers that are exciting your ears these days?
One of my greatest joys as a music journalist is opening mine to new sounds, artists and sonic adventures. It’s so easy to get stuck in the mode where I only attend shows by artists I have seen before or am super-familiar with. I’m glad I took up the offer by Rondi Charleston’s publicist to check out her show this week at Catalina Jazz Club – always one of my favorite hot spots in Hollywood. I went in without ever hearing her music – and was amply rewarded with one of my favorite club shows of the year so far. The night was a celebration of Who Knows Where The Time Goes, the debut release on Motema Records by the charming, vocally gifted and powerfully poetic singer/songwriter.
The Chicago raised, Julliard trained Charleston (how’s that for a great last name?) has a unique career back story which perfectly relates to the acute sense of observation and questioning she incorporates into her original songs. She worked as an opera singer but later got a Master’s at NYU’s School of Journalism and ultimately became an investigative reporter for ABC News and won an Emmy and Peabody Award for her work on Primetime Live with Diane Sawyer. Marriage and motherhood further delayed her musical dreams, but enrich her creative spirit as a songwriter well.
Besides her expressive, emotional and sensuous voice and crisp sense of phrasing, the most impressive thing about Rondi is the way she effortlessly blends heartfelt original material on unexpected subjects and covers chosen from a wide variety of genres. Let’s start with the originals. She wrote the easy swinging ballad “Telescope,” in which she explores the mysteries of the universe, after taking her daughter to a planetarium and hearing the expected questions about existence. The spiritually uplifting “The Land of Galilee” was inspired by a seemingly miraculous snowfall during a trip she took with her husband and daughter to Israel; it finds her imagining this odd occurrence as a metaphor for a more loving spirit in this troubled region of the world. “Dance of Time” is one of the most beautiful expressions about the enduring power of love I’ve ever heard, a clever array of musings about what makes love last; the song was inspired by a neighboring couple who had been married for 65 years. Equally lovely and poignant was “Your Spirit Lingers,” which was inspired by the image-rich life journey of Rondi’s great grandmother.
Rondi titled her album “Who Knows Where The Time Goes,” citing Judy Collins’ 1968 version of the Sandy Denny song as a big influence. I personally was more familiar with Eva Cassidy’s great version. She brought an aching, reflective melancholy (with just a twist of hope) to the song in her live performance. The other covers ranged from a percussive, slightly Latin tinged take on Stevie Wonder’s exuberant “Overjoyed” to a soaring search for truth on a translated version of Milton Nascimento’s Brazilian classic “Everything You Were Meant To Be.” She also did an elegant, sparsely arranged turn–with just guitarist Dave Stryker for accompaniment—on “This Nearly Was Mine” (a lesser known selection from “South Pacific”) and Bobby McFerrin’s rousing, gospel infused anthem “Freedom Is A Voice,” with a lot of African accents.
Catalina Jazz Club always features big name national acts on weekends (I recently saw Diane Schuur there), but during the week they showcase worthy artists who are often amazing but simply lack the big name recognition. I’m glad I took a chance on the delightful Rondi Charleston. Her show was a wonderful way to end a very jazzy June!