Two divine divas
HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 12/21/2011, 5:10 p.m.
In their search for themes for "My Mother and Me," Melba Joyce and her daughter Carmen Bradford had a number of options to choose from. One of them was pretty obvious in this yuletide season.
The duo opened their concert at Aaron Davis Hall last Friday, Dec. 16, with "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and the standing-room-only crowd didn't need jolly Old St. Nick to bring them any gifts-they came via Joyce and Bradford. There was no lack of Christmas spirit in this holiday favorite.
Backed by an equally spirited rhythm section-Brandon McCune (piano), Paul Beaudry (bass) and Marion Felder (drums)-the divas kept the tempo going with their version of "My Favorite Things." Augmented by Beaudry's tasteful articulation, Joyce showed she can thrive on riff, embellish a time-worn evergreen and advance her own special brand of scat.
"Girl Talk" was just that as they shared a few private and not-so-private intimacies, all the while keeping Neal Hefti's timeless tune on their minds and lyrically fetching.
When mother took a break, Bradford commanded the stage with just McCune to accompany her on Ellington's immortal "Sophisticated Lady." She matched the pianist's dazzling arpeggios and chromatics with dramatic shifts in timbre and extended whole notes.
A similar nuance and vocal technique was attached to "Take the A Train," and once again Bradford put her voice to the test with a choo-choo kind of boogie. Felder, a native Detroiter who studied with the great trumpeter/teacher Marcus Belgrave, supplied an additional boost to the timeless locomotive.
After a brief intermission, Joyce had her chance alone with the trio. Her rapidly delivered "Doodling" was right in her bailiwick, and most of her fans seemed to be poised for her to dip into this part of her repertoire. She followed it with a lament-like treatment of Thelonius Monk's "'Round Midnight," and the sorrow seemed to ooze when she sang "and it really gets back 'round midnight." McCune was particularly expressive in his probe of Monk's genius.
Mother and daughter were soon together again on "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," and they sang and embraced each other with a warmth and fondness that was as endearing as it was ineffable. It was the kind of picture-perfect reunion of souls who have known each other from birth but were looking at each other with a fresh realization of their endless love and devotion.
Called back for an encore, the duo had themselves "A Merry Little Christmas," and as Bradford said in her remarks in the concert program, there were special thanks made to Edward Roebuck for keeping his promise and bringing mother and daughter together for "this wonderful event."
Indeed. The mother and daughter were then joined by Joyce's mother, which made it three generations in the house and two divine divas.