Club Review: Kavita Shah

June 1, 2022 | By

I first heard vocalist and composer Kavita Shah accidentally. Needing a walk after a long day last fall, I wandered over to  55 Bar, a classic West Village dive jazz club where many of the greats have played and where the cover is $5. (Ed. Note: 55 Bar recently closed.) It was Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. Shah and her band were cheered on by Mom, who brought sweets for the holiday—the musicians and the audience happily dove into the treats on the break.

Kavita Shah (Photo: Julien Charpentier)

Shah’s sets at 55 Bar the past spring when I returned were with her Brazilian band: Vinicus Gomes, guitar; Eduardo Belo, bass; and Dennis Bulhões, drums; she also does evenings of original material and standards. Although she’s a performer with world music influences and speaks nine, yes nine, languages, the unifying factor is jazz. She has a Grammy nomination, was the winner of the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award, and underscores her versatility in international styles with continuing travel and research. She brings a beautifully balanced vocal technique and dexterous improvisation skills to her wide range of material, and is able to keep a relaxed, not-just-academic swing running through it all.

“Desde Que O Samba é Samba” (“Since Samba is Samba”) (Caetano Veloso) is a classic. It’s basically about keeping sorrow and loneliness at bay with song; the perfect way to ease into happy hour. The song ended, a car horn honked outside, Gomes played back the same note back on guitar, and suddenly the neighborhood was filled with music. For more call and response, they played “Oju Oba” (“Eyes of the King”), an Afro-Brazilian toe-tapper in Portuguese and Yoruba in which the audience had our own part, then they transitioned into a dreamy, meditative section with her vocals layered over the other instruments. Shah knows the quiet end of her voice, and where she can have the most effect by letting the mic pick up her breath, sometimes sighing off a note, playing with brighter or darker pitch or right down the middle of a note.

“Cravo E Canella” (“Clove and Cinnamon”) (Milton Nascimento, Ronaldo Bastos) was uptempo, full of fast vocal runs and an out-of-the-box guitar solo, as sweet and well-spiced as the lyrics. “Skylark” (Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer) kept pace with the evening and was done as a bossa. “Foot On The Road” (Toninho Horta) was ambling-along adorable; Bulhões had many more serious moments to shine that evening on percussion, but for this, he grabbed the triangle and wouldn’t let go. Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora was on my radar in the early 1990s, when her La Diva Aux Pieds Nus (Barefoot Diva) album was in heavy rotation on CBC Radio. “Sodade” (“Longing”) (Armando Zeferino Soares) was one of her well-known songs, and it was good to hear a new dimension to Shah’s soulful lower range with this material—it featured a notable under-the-radar bass solo by Belo.


Presented at  55 Bar on March 22 and May 12. 

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

From Canada, Penelope Thomas came to NY to study dance with Merce Cunningham; then through a series of fortunate and unfortunate events, she wound up back in singing and acting. Credits include lead vocals with FauveMuseum on two albums and live at Symphony Space, singing back-up for Bistro Awards director Shellen Lubin at the Metropolitan Room, reading poet Ann Carson’s work at the Whitney, and touring North America and Europe with Mikel Rouse’s The End of Cinematics. In Toronto, she studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music and cello with the Claude Watson School for the Arts, and in New York she studied music theory with Mark Wade. She's taught in the New School’s Sweat musical theatre intensive and taught dance in public schools and conservatories.

Comments are closed.