Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lalah Hathaway

I like Lalah Hathaway. I love Lalah Hathaway. I like following what she's doing even when I'm not in love with all her music, because she is clearly in it for the long haul, constantly exploring her musical choices and becoming more masterful. I love her voice, and I love hearing what she does with it - those two things together are very exciting. She has a huge range, but she uses it as she wants to, musically, not to point out how big it is. Her bottom range is really unusual - unusually big, controlled, deep, fluid, solid. I don't offhand know any other women vocalists who live so much in lower registers like that except maybe other jazz musicians (which I'm not that familiar with.) Not even opera mezzos or contraltos. Nor, for the record, am I sure if she more properly belongs in R&B or jazz. Not sure that matters.

She opens up songs in amazing ways. I'd argue one of her biggest strengths is as a cover artist, as she takes songs and plays with them and makes them totally hers, something she does without having to fill in every last empty space. She's a musician. I have been more than a little obsessed for the last 10 years with how she has turned Luther Vandross' "Forever, For Always, For Love" into her song; I'm always listening to the latest version. In concert it's now 10-12 minutes long (usually with a very long guitar solo in the middle), and she is willing to be slow, to be quiet, to be precise, to live in it. It's full of flourish and ownership, but it can also sound simple - sometimes - made of the kind of simplicity that "could only have sprung from the highest art," as E.F. Benson would say. It's exhilarating. A clinic.

Anyhow, she has been doing this thing more and more recently that is really fun to listen to: she harmonizes with herself. She sings two - or three - notes at a time. Like throat singing. (Or David Lee Roth!) Maybe it more properly belongs in the category of a stunt or trick, but there is something so cool about it, not to mention watching audience members and fellow musicians alike lose their minds when they hear it. She doesn't do it like a big ta-dah or kicker at the end of a performance or something - she does it with a lot of musical care, like all her singing - but either way there is something incredible about hearing these noises - hearing a chord - come of out of a human being. People go INSANE.

Some spots to hear it:

- in the middle of call and response, singing Randy Crawford's "Street Life" - c: 6:45 (if you don't listen to the whole thing, at least start at 6:00 to hear her play with Arabic-style vibrato)

- singing "Something" with Snarky Puppy - c. 6:10 - 6:25 (watch the musicians go bonkers)

- singing "Summertime" with: Jason Morales - c: 5:30 - 7:00

- a clip of her doing it (not sure what song it is) - c: 0:15

- another clip - her bit is 0:00 - 2:15 and the self-harmonizing happens around 1:30 - 2:00, after she throws in bits of The Wiz

If you're not familiar with Hathaway, here is a bit of her singing Anita Baker's "Angel," showing off some of how she does, in general:


Here is my current fav version of her singing "Forever, For Always, For Love" (Paris, 2012). (Also great: versions with Errol Cooney on guitar -  this is another really gorgeous version.) All the clips from this concert in Paris are fun, because you can really see her leading her band, being in charge. Make sure you hear 4:30 - 5:30:


And here, of course, is her father, who is, you know - god. She does sound like him, I think. The size of her voice is sort of shaped the same way, with that insane bottom to it.