DIVA Celebrates the DIVAs with Brianna Thomas
by Marilyn Lester
As the name might imply, the all female DIVA Jazz Orchestra has been swinging a mighty sound for 24 years, most of them under the leadership of drum virtuoso, Sherrie Maricle. In this mini-Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola residency, the DIVAs celebrated the band’s birthday, and also paid tribute to the many artists with whom they’ve worked over the years, such as Maurice Hines (an early supporter of the group), Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson, Diane Schuur and many more. The DIVAs are known for the force and verve of their playing, yet that power-packed sound didn’t quite gel to their high standard of cohesiveness until three numbers into the set, with a crisp, clean “Pennies from Heaven” (Arthur Johnston/Johnny Burke) featuring two superb solos by top performers Lauren Sevian on baritone sax and Noriko Ueda on the upright bass (who produced astounding melodic tones from her instrument).
The opening number, “I Love Being Here With You” (Peggy Lee/Dave Cavanaugh) featured capable solos by Alexa Tarantino on alto sax, Sara Jacovino on trombone and Jami Dauber on trumpet. “Nothin’” (Stanley Kay), the second number of the set, wonderfully paid tribute to DIVA founder Stanley Kay (a drummer, composer-arranger and artists manager) with an effective clarinet solo by Janelle Reichman and a powerful trumpet solo by Tanya Darby. “Nothin’” with it’s Latin slant, saw the DIVAs edge toward tight playing, which finally blossomed with the afore-mentioned “Pennies from Heaven.”
Vocalist Brianna Thomas handled four numbers, beginning with “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” (Harry Woods) with the band fully in its stride, and a tenor sax solo by Janelle Recihman. Thomas is a low-key singer. Her stage presence is not about high energy, but is about a deeply felt connection to the material. She delivers a gentle “Here’s to Life” (Phyllis Molinary/Artie Butler), and quietly swings to “All of Me” (Gerald Marks/Seymour Simons), with a fine sense of rhythm and creative phrasing. Not an accomplished scatter, Thomas makes do, ending with an upbeat “Easy to Love” (Cole Porter).
“Once in a While” (Michael Edwards/Bud Green), played as a lovely ballad it is, was the penultimate offering of the set, featuring the hugely talented Roxy Cross on tenor sax. The closer, a big, swinging “Get Me To the Church On Time” (Frederick Loewe/Alan Jay Lerner) featured Alexa Tarantino on alto sax and showcased the virtuosity of pianist Tomoko Ohno and of Sherrie Maricle – one of the most soulful and skillful drummers and musicians of any era, bar none. Brava to the superb DIVAs who have broken much needed ground in establishing women as equals and top contenders in the jazz world.
DIVA Celebrates the DIVAs with Brianna Thomas, March 31 – April 2 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM
Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Broadway at 60th St., 212-258-9595, www.jalc.org/