—by Liz Fixsen. When it comes to writing reviews about musical performers and performances, it’s all too easy to just reach into the adjective basket and throw out an armload—”fantastic!” “incredible!” “awesome!” “spectacular!” But in this case—Irene Jalenti’s senior recital at Peabody on March 13th—all those adjectives apply.
The few times I had heard Jalenti sing, I was impressed with her deep and smoky voice—deeper and smokier even than Diana Krall and Eliane Elias—and perhaps more expressive. With voice, face, and gesture, Jalenti seems to enter into the heart of a song and invest it with great emotional nuance. Whatever the style of the tune, she makes it her own.
When I heard Jalenti’s senior recital on March 13th, I perceived a new side of this woman’s talent. In the first place, her range is wider than I had realized, reaching well into the mezzo-soprano range. In the second place, she is a true maestra, with a breathtaking command of her instrument, which she demonstrated in scat-singing that brought the roof down and surely elicited approving nods from the shades of great jazz scatters like Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O’Day.
Her fine sense of musicianship was also on display in her program, consisting entirely of tunes by the famed jazz pianist Horace Silver. Selections included “Love Vibrations” and “Nica’s Dream”—about the wealthy New York patroness of jazz, Pannonica de Koenigswarter—and her dream “that jazz would one day be the music that’s of the future, you see.” On the lovely ballad “Peace,” Jalenti opened by singing a meditative duet with bassist Jeff Reed. On the funky “Filthy McNasty,” she scatted the entire song, beginning and ending with a duet with the trumpet, the two instruments harmonizing along a high-tempo melodic line without missing a note.
Peabody student Leo Maxey played the trumpet with great fluidity and panache, providing a couple of arresting solos. Jonathan Baez, also a Peabody senior, delivered drumming that was energetic but tasteful, never obtrusive. On piano was the impressive Todd Simon, a Peabody alumnus, and on bass, the estimable Reed, who plays regularly throughout the region and teaches at Towson University.
Perhaps the most affecting piece in the program was “Song for My Father,” which the quartet played in 3/4 time. Jalenti announced the song as a tribute to her own father, whose love of music inspired her own career: “If there was ever a man who was generous, gracious and good, that was my dad, the man, the man.”
A native of Italy, Jalenti relates that her father’s side of the family has always been involved in music. Her grandparents were professional opera singers (soprano and tenor), and all her uncles were musicians, from classical guitarists to Italian popular singers. Her cousin Francesco Jalenti was a very talented classical and jazz guitarist.
Jalenti has performed professionally throughout Italy since 1999, including at several jazz festivals. In 2007 she went to Paris and performed with important local musicians at a variety of venues. Since 2008, she has performed in New York City venues like Cachaca Jazz, Botanical Gardens, and Zeb’s. Her musical experience includes not only jazz, but also gospel and soul. From the age of 15, she performed as a soloist in a gospel choir and, starting in 1998, sang in various soul bands. She recently participated as guest vocalist on The Serenade & The Sermon with soul artist Marcell Russell. Her long experience singing soul and blues came through clearly in “Filthy McNasty” and “Sister Sadie,” which she sang with as much bluesy sass and verve as though she had never been outside of Alabama in her whole life. But looking at her, you’d never mistake her for anything but an Italian, with her mop of ravishing black locks, her warm brown eyes, and her spectacular Roman nose.
Jalenti has yet to produce her own album, but on her website, several CDs are listed to which she has contributed vocally. She has been performing throughout the DC/Baltimore region and beyond, including at An die Musik in Baltimore, the Tabard Inn in DC, and LaPorta’s in Alexandria, VA. She’ll be appearing as a special guest artist at Blues Alley on May 28th. Just get out and hear this fantastic, incredible, awesome singer as soon as you can! Well, now I’m all out of adjectives.
– LIZ FIXSEN