Natalie Douglas- Human Heart
Musical Director/Arrangements/pianist: Mark Hartman
March 21, 2016
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Showcasing her latest CD, Human Heart, Natalie Douglas warned there was going to be a lot of crying at Birdland. She was right. There were tears but there was also laughter and even a mixture of both as Douglas touched the audience with universal emotions and experiences of the human heart. Her lustrous mezzo vocals were melodious in this passionate compendium of songs that strike the heart with special potency. Acknowledging the world we all live in, Natalie Douglas' Human Heart was a performance that blazed with significance and stunning musical power.
Opening with the enduring strength of Abbey Lincoln's "Wholly Earth," Douglas offered a salute to her inspirations who came before and who influenced her with the fire and courage of their music. With a sound all her own, matchless phrasing and passionate commitment, Douglas was striking with a selection of fiercely personal songs. From Show Boat, she concentrated on a throaty focus with Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” with Patience Higgins on a moody sax. Reflecting her social conscience, she recalled the story of Barney Josephson's legendary non-segregated New York club, Café Society, where Billie Holiday introduced "Strange Fruit" (Abel Meeropol), a harrowing example of Southern racism.
Her signature delivery of "Mr. Bojangles (Jerry Jeff Walker) is always a profound lesson in storytelling, much like Nina Simone's “Mississippi Goddam, ” resonating with her outrage in response to the four black children killed in a church bombing. Douglas included another Miss Nina hit, "I Hold No Grudge" ("A gal who's been forgotten may forgive/ But never once forget") written by Angelo Badalamenti and John W. Clifford. Abbey Lincoln's response to pain was "Throw It Away," and Douglas delivered it with meticulous interpretation.
These most riveting songs were mixed with tasteful favorites like “It Never Was You” (Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson) and the insinuating tang of "The Best Is Yet to Come” (Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh). From current theater writers, she added Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s “The Human Heart” and a tender smokiness in "Sleepy Man" by Robert Waldman.
While Joni Mitchell's 1970's "Woodstock" is not included in this CD, Douglas performed it as her encore at Birdland, with a nod to Mitchell's eloquent version before building to the zesty rock energy of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's hit.
Natalie Douglas was accompanied with the imaginative arrangements and piano of Musical Director Mark Hartman. Jim Cammack plays bass, Kiku Enomoto is on violin and Patience Higgins on reeds, Brian Nash on keyboards and Charles Ruggiero on drums.