Rickie Lee Jones
Reviews Jazz Cafe London February 10, 2001

Rickie Lee Jones

Jazz Cafe, London

Ian Penman

Saturday February 10, 2001

Rickie Lee Jones is something of an anomaly. Her latest album, It's Like This, has just been nominated for a Grammy - but how many people know it's out there, or that she's touring, or that she even still exists and has done anything since Chuck E's In Love, oh, 22 years ago? Never mind that she has one of the Great Voices extant...

In her mid-40s, she suffers from rock's innate misogyny à la Hollywood (which reserves its starring roles for perky daughters rather than wise mothers) and from the fact that she can't be pinned to an easy genre definition. Folksy feminist? Beat angel? Ex drug-life visionary?

Tonight, in a rare UK appearance, she could be an ageless elder poet - Anne Sexton with a low-slung Gibson, spinning tales of flightless birds and cabbalistic maps. And then, with her dirty giggle, she's the eternal Younger Sister - the one who dyed her hair purple before her time, or put obscene angels on the Christmas tree.

Dressed down in sweats and shades and sandals, she initally seems out of sorts, sniffly, sniffy, withdrawn, and at odds with her own songs' strange, jack-in-the-box time signatures. It takes a fidgety while for her to warm (and tune) up, and settle down into the delicate logic of a career-encompassing set. The band (including her long-time collaborator Sal Bernadi) also start in playing-by-numbers style, as if infected by their leader's distracted air.

But then out of these doldrums leap sudden spots of coherence and surges of beauty - notably on her own Atlas's Marker, and a generously dark reading of My Funny Valentine that hushed the room. The serpentine Cloud of Unknowing hit an astral jazz groove like mid-period Tim Buckley; and by the time she took a staggeringly confident hipsway through The Street Where You Live you knew you were privy to something rare - the kind of delicate yet gutsy vocal performance one might have thought dead and buried with the ghosts of Torch Song past.

The Magazine was prefaced with an illuminating rap about her street-drug past - an anecdotal frame for the song's rueful self-inventory. A Cubano shimmy through Steely Dan's still-acid Show Biz Kids might stand as a manifesto, except Jones negotiates it like a piece of blues erotica rather than a poison dart to the gestalt.

She seemed to grow in poise and purpose just as the end drew near, finishing with a note-perfect Satellites, its valedictory lines - "Don't quit: code the world with a fugitive light!" - proffered like a motto.

And then she was gone, with a radiant smile, but no encores - a disservice to her jewel box catalogue.

In equal parts frustrating and unfeasibly sublime. There really is no one like her.



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