Personnel: Mindi Abair (vocals, alto saxophone); Sweet Pea Atkinson (vocals); Randy Jacobs (vocals, guitar); Third Richardson (vocals, drums); Derek Frank (vocals); Rodney Lee (piano, Fender Rhodes piano, Hammond b-3 organ, Wurlitzer organ).
Audio Mixer: Seth Presant.
Recording information: Jazz Alley, Seattle, WA (02/12/2015-02/15/2015).
Mindi Abair's 2014 Grammy-nominated studio album Wild Heart was star-studded and chock-full of imaginative charts, but they were so fixed, precious little room remained for players to stretch out. Abair remedies that on Live in Seattle, backed by the Boneshakers -- guitarist Randy Jacobs and vocalist Sweet Pea Atkinson -- and members of her own band. She is a celebrated contemporary jazz artist, but she's done many other things as well. On Live in Seattle, she channels her rock, funk, and blueswoman personas with her jazz chops at the fore. With Jacobs and Atkinson bringing blues-rock and hard soul edges from Detroit, what else could she do? "Wild Heart" commences with Jacobs' roiling, back-to-the-roots guitar vamping at the fore. Abair answers by matching the intensity with a funk vamp as the rhythm section lays down an elastic pocket. "I Can't Lose" reveals that her thin, grainy voice does have power (something lacking on Wild Heart); it climbs out on the ledge to express emotion on top of the band's swampy magic. Instrumentally, her alto solo careens into Jacobs' Hendrix-ian wah-wah guitar and the wallop of the rhythm section. She's a terrific accompanist, too, as evidenced by Jacobs' swaggering, Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque electric blues in "Ball and Chain," as Atkinson lends soulful depth in the backing vocal. "Make It Happen," a breakbeat-drenched souled-out funk stepper, is a previously unreleased jam Abair wrote with Booker T. Jones. Her raw, squawking alto and Jacobs' fat, rhythmic comping are a killer combination. For contemporary jazz fans, there's an uptempo version of the lyrical "Bloom" (from 2006's Life Less Ordinary). Her soloing here offers reveals the depth of her experience, both musical and emotional. Likewise, her vocal duet with Atkinson on the lovely "I'll Be Your Home" weds both Motown and Stax traditions seamlessly. An over the top, rockist instrumental version of George Gershwin's "Summertime" follows; it's rangy and wild. The exchanges between Abair's wailing, Jacobs' massive riffing, Third Richardson's breakbeat drums, Derek Frank's whomping basslines, and Rodney Lee's fluid, spiky keyboards offer abundant lyricism and kinetic force. Abair is no stranger to James Brown's tunes -- she brings Atkinson out to close with "Cold Sweat." The band's attack is more blues than funk, but Atkinson's alternately silky and grainy soul delivery turns this nugget inside-out. Live in Seattle was a gutsy move following the commercial success of Wild Heart, but it was the right one. On earlier records and in her session work, Abair's musical wild side could only be heard in brief flashes. But with the perfect balance of players, and freed from the constraints of a studio, she is at her unfettered best. ~ Thom Jurek