Those only familiar with the work of American-French jazz vocalist Madeleine Peyroux through her recorded albums were in for a big surprise at the Tel Aviv Opera House last Friday night.
Her CDs feature low-key jazz with a thoughtful, haunting quality. However, on Friday she burst onto the stage in full voice backed by a driving quartet of accomplished jazzmen on guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. Peyroux is not well-known in Israel, but her powerful opening song electrified the mostly middle-aged audience who had come to attend one of the regular "Jazz at the Opera" series. She captivated the audience packing the large and impressive auditorium with her valiant attempt to inject a few words of Hebrew as she introduced her shirei shtiya and shirei ahava (drinking songs and love songs).
Peyroux grew up in Paris and she demonstrated her versatility by singing a chanson or two in French, and her group demonstrated its versatility by giving the song a jazz veneer, with drummer Darren Beckett brushing wondrous percussion off the top of a cardboard box and keyboardist Gary Versace playing electronic accordion.
Somewhat melancholy on disc, Peyroux is often compared to Billie Holiday - but she blew this comparison away onstage where she is much more vibrant and gives full expression to her powerful voice. She is also an accomplished composer and sang several songs from her latest album, Bare Bones, which comprises only original material. The audience enthusiastically applauded her version of the Bob Dylan tune "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" and her compelling version of Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me To the End of Love." She is a unique talent who deserves to be better known in Israel.
The Tel Aviv gig was part of Peyroux's world tour. Her previous stop was Beirut, where she had to find a replacement for her Israeli bassist Barak Mori, who has been working with her for the past two-and-a-half years. Mori took the opportunity of his forced absence from the band to visit his family here. The fourth member of the virtuoso quartet was Pat Bergeson on electric guitar. Peyroux accompanies most of her songs on acoustic guitar.
To paraphrase the title of one of Peyroux's discs, Half the Perfect World, for local fans Friday night at the Opera House, it was half a perfect week.