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Vocalist Tammy McCann conquers Glen Ellyn

By Howard Reich, Tribune critic
July 13, 2009

They finally found a place big enough to hold Tammy McCann's voice: the great outdoors.

With thousands of people in front of her and the open sky above, the Chicago singer gave Jazz Fest Glen Ellyn its greatest moments on Saturday, unleashing tremendous salvos of vocal firepower. More important, there was sonic heft, tonal nuance and interpretive savvy to this work, which confirmed that Jazz Fest Glen Ellyn knows how to program a significant musical event.

The third annual festival, located along several blocks of the historic Main Street shopping district, offered a case study in how to present a civilized, aesthetically appealing jazz soiree. Because of the narrow confines of the street, the stage area retained an intimacy rarely encountered in outdoor performances. Here was a sterling instance of a community using its built environment to ingenious effect, the low-slung buildings forming a de facto amphitheater well suited to the intimate art of jazz.

This proved a particularly welcome context for McCann, who makes visceral emotional contact with listeners in any setting but whose voice renders most indoor spaces too small. No problem here, with McCann's fortissimos probably heard in downtown Naperville .

From her opening notes in the standard "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," McCann showed that she continues to evolve as interpreter and technician. Rarely does one hear a voice of this size finesse scat passages so nimbly. Yet every fast-moving scale and lightning riff had tonal weight, the singer never throwing off a note without giving it expressive meaning.

Part of the thrill of this set was in hearing McCann push past conventional repertoire and into less familiar, more contemporary work. Accompanied by drums alone, she made a battle cry of Lena McLin's "Move," an anthem on the quest for civil rights. And in "Amazon," from the Betty Carter songbook, McCann revealed a previously undetected ability to improvise far outside traditional song structures.

Earlier in the day, Chicago saxophonist Mark Colby acquitted himself well in ballads, bebop and blues. If his haunting tune "Reflections" (from his recent CD of the same name) owed a debt to the vintage "Body and Soul," it also yielded ornate solos of tangible melodic beauty.

Finally, the Deep Blue Organ Trio lived up to its name, Bobby Broom's lithe guitar work bathed in blues-drenched chords from organist Chris Foreman and relentless swing rhythm from drummer Greg Rockingham.

Downtown Glen Ellyn never sounded so good.

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