Time for a rare music post, and opportunity to promote a fantastic jazz group, the Jeni Fleming Acoustic Trio. I’ve been lucky enough to hear them play three times in the last few years, despite not getting out much, because they are based close by, in Bozeman, Montana. Jeni Fleming is the vocalist of the group, with her husband Jake Fleming on saxophone and guitar, and with Chad Langford on acoustic bass.
The trio has two main reasons why it is great: the perfect unity of Langford and Jake, and Jeni’s voice. The bass and guitar are as tight a unit as they can be, playing classic and more novel jazz rhythms. Jeni uses the solid backing to free her voice to do what it does best. Her voice is everything a jazz singer’s should be – mellow, controlled, fluid, and with an expansive range, both dynamically and vertically. They win converts from the ranks of people who don’t like jazz. One person I know said, “I don’t like jazz, but this is great.” Another was less willing to budge from his anti-jazz preferences, but admitted that he could listen to Jeni talk all day.
They mix original jazz tunes (primarily Jake’s), classic jazz such as “‘Round Midnight” and “Garota de Ipanema” (yes, the Portuguese version), a wide range of pop tunes including “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “Time After Time”, and both old and recent show tunes, such as “Somewhere” (from West Side Story) and “Stars and the Moon” (from Songs for a New World). At a recent concert, I heard a fantastic jazz rendition of “She’s Leaving Home,” the Beatles’ classic from Sgt. Pepper’s. This is the third major strength of the band – its willingness not to be limited by the original genres the tunes came from. As Jeni Fleming says herself at performances, a good song is a good song, no matter where it came from.
They are comfortable and interactive with listeners both in the more intimate setting of a bar, and onstage in a large auditorium. The only real criticism I have of their live performances, which isn’t much, is that they spend a little too much time explaining the genesis of their original numbers. Because Jake and Jeni are husband and wife, some of the personal anecdotes definitely border on TMI. I’m there to see great musicians perform, not to hear their life stories. But this is a case where too much is probably better than too little, because they are humorous and establish a good rapport with the audience, making us feel as though they’ve let us in on some creative secrets.
Check out jenifleming.com or iTunes to listen to clips. Although recordings never do a good live band justice, Jeni Fleming’s vocal ability will come through loud and clear. (Four tunes, including one of their signature originals which is highly representative of their sound, “Once Around the Sun”, can be heard in its entirety on the band’s MySpace page.)
One additional sideline of note: Jeni and Jake Fleming have collaborated with the family of Greg Mortenson to produce the song “Three Cups of Tea,” available as an accompaniment to the book (below) about Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute (also based in Bozeman, Montana). Mortenson’s young daughter Amira is an aspiring professional singer and sings with Fleming on the song. Some of the proceeds support the CAI, which funds school building in remote regions of middle eastern Islamic countries. The CAI is particularly devoted to providing education for both boys and girls in countries where they have previously grown up in ignorance. Although the book is padded with quite a lot of gratuitous material about Mortenson’s personal life, especially early on, it is worth a read by Americans who support bombing and destruction as a means to combat terrorism.