Caitlin Smith is well-known to those who follow the Auckland music scene, where she is highly respected as a vocalist and voice coach. Scrolling down her resumé reveals just how active she has been over the years and just how far-reaching her influence is.
She sits comfortably on the Soul to Jazz spectrum, often occupying a stylistic space similar to that of Joanie Mitchell or Ricky Lee Jones. Her material’s drawn from a mix of originals, standards and pop covers but all interpreted in her own unique way. She has an impressive vocal range and she can captivate an audience with incredible ease. She is a true performer and her elegance and professionalism are immediately evident. It takes years for a performer to look this comfortable in front of an audience and many never achieve it. The fact that she has a severe vision impairment just adds to her allure.
The set list was mainly from her latest album ‘Stories to tell: The Thorndon Project’. Sponsored by The Disabilities Commission and PVINZ (Parents of Vision Impaired New Zealand). Caitlin and the drummer on the album Mark Lockett (also vision impaired) had pulled together an impressive lineup for the session. Caitlin (vocals), Alan Brown (organ), Paul Van Ross (saxophone, flute), Mark Lockett (drums). The purpose of the album is to raise awareness around disability issues and to highlight the dedication of the parents caring for those with disabilities. This hit me right where I live, because my granddaughter has cerebral palsy and I know just how incredibly hard it is for her. I am also hyper aware of the sacrifices that her mother (my daughter) lovingly makes each day.
The creative arts are often at the forefront of such campaigns and this one is personal and special. The personnel assembled for the album are all renowned musicians and while three hail from New Zealand, they are a truly international lineup. Paul Van Ross is from Melbourne, but he is currently in New York. Mark Lockett is originally from Wellington but he recently moved to New York. Alan Brown has a legendary status on the New Zealand music scene and works, performs and teaches around Auckland.
Caitlin had a different band when she appeared at the CJC. Kevin Field, a regular accompanist for Caitlin had just returned from recording in New York (I am particularly excited about that, as he recorded with Matt Penman and Nir Felder). Kevin is an extraordinary pianist and leader but he also knows how to accompany a singer. Anything involving Kevin Field will be worth hearing. On bass was Vanessa McGowan who bowled me over with her sound and musicality. I have heard her before but with bigger groups, where she had blended into the mix as a good bass player should in such situations. In this trio setting she shone. Her lines were great, but it was the fat warm sound that really captivated me. She can sing as well. More of her in trio settings please. The remaining member was Ron Samsom and he can bring out the best in any band. Whether on mallets, sticks or brushes, Ron is the person you want in your band. He is simply one of the best traps drummers in New Zealand.
Caitlin’s own composition ‘In Between’ was impressive and her interpretation of ‘I Don’t Want to Waist my Time on Music you Don’t Really Need’ (Over the Rhine) was edgy and soul infused. I have chosen a video clip from her CJC band to post; Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. When I panned to the audience, what the camera failed to pick up out of the darkness was Trudy Lile coming in on the chorus. Vanessa McGowan also sang beautiful harmony on the chorus. Jazz singing is evolving and while perhaps this was not Jazz singing in the traditional sense it was a pleasure to hear. The feel good factor should never be overlooked and Caitlin delivered this.
Dedicated to those with severe disabilities and to their support networks – for Mala and Jennie especially
Who: Caitlin Smith (vocals, leader, composition), Kevin Field (piano), Vanessa McGowan (bass, vocals), Ron Samsom (drums).
Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Building, Brittomart, Auckland.
Album: ‘Stories to Tell: The Thorndon Project’ PVINZ imprint – available from www.caitlinsmith.com
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