Dakota Christmas Jazz Party
Minneapolis Star-Tribune - December 11, 2001

Michael Anthony, December 11, 2001
A Christmas jazz concert sounds like a fun idea, and so the Dakota, the area's premier jazz club, is giving that idea a good run, offering a bevy of top local performers in two evenings this week.

Actually, there were two shows Monday night, both broadcast live on KBEM (88.5 FM), and some of the performances both nights will make up a CD, "Chestnuts: Cookin' At the Dakota 2001," which will be offered for sale at the nightclub. Both shows will be repeated today.

Four singers performed in the first show -- Debbie Duncan, Judy Donaghy, Erin Schwab and Lori Dokken -- doing both solo and ensemble numbers, with Dokken playing deft accompaniment on piano and the other three seated on stools. In the second show, Connie Evingson sang with the assistance of reeds player Dave Karr, pianist Mary Louise Knutson, bassist Terry Burns and drummer Steve Jennings. Burns and Jennings also backed up where needed during the first show.

The pattern was sort of loose to tight. Dokken's group was winging it much of the time -- or at least appeared to be -- while Evingson and Karr had worked out some fairly complicated arrangements, including a clever opus called "Nutcracker Petite Suite" based on melodies from Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" with interpolated lyrics.

Despite a few musical train wrecks during the first show, and not enough care taken in blending these four quite distinctive voices, there were some highlights. Those included a majestic treatment of "O Holy Night" by Duncan and a lovely, heartfelt take on "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Schwab, a fine singer-actress who earned praise for her recent performance in "The Rink" at the Loring Playhouse. Between these was Dokken's amusing impression of Katharine Hepburn reciting "The Night Before Christmas."

For her part, Evingson opened with a nice surprise, "Snowfall," the old Claude Thornhill theme, enhanced by Karr's subtle arabesques on tenor saxophone. A warm reading of Mel Torme's "Christmas Song" followed, as did a sexy version of "Santa Baby," with Karr this time on flute. Karr added clarinet to his one-man band for a whimsical run-through of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which also offered a buoyant solo by Knutson. The shaker hymn "'Tis a Gift To Be Simple," which Aaron Copland made much of in his orchestral music, was another surprise, an arrangement that evolved into gospel style.

As usual, Evingson was in fine voice. Her cool tone is just right for jazz material, but she's never chilly. She phrases intelligently and draws the listener in.

© 2003-2018 Connie Evingson