Leah Suárez & Friends
It’s always nice to see a working jazz act perform outside of its usual setting, away from the typical dinner club atmosphere of the restaurants and smaller rooms. Leah Suárez & Friends, a loungy combo with a weekly Monday evening house gig at Mercato, impressed Piccolo Spoleto audiences two weeks ago with such a set during the Jazz Artists of Charleston’s Upstairs at McCrady’s series.
Vocalist Leah Suárez (JAC’s president) led her core bandmates — pianist Gerald Gregory and drummer Nick Jenkins — alongside an expanded lineup of Kevin Hamilton on bass, David Linaburg on guitar, and Charlton Singleton on trumpet through a smooth and elegant set in McCrady’s fancy Gallery Room (overlooking East Bay Street).
Back at Mercato this week, Suárez, Gregory, and Jenkins looked and sounded considerably more casual and mischievous throughout their multiple sets. It was a fun, laid-back scene with a positive vibe.
Arranged between the bar and the front street-side dining room, under a large Sforzato di Valtellina poster that hung on the wall, the trio glided from standard to standard at a fairly low volume. Suárez added breathy accents and sultry inflections to such numbers as "What Is This Thing Called Love?," "It’s All Right With Me," and "Some Day My Prince Will Come," scatting a bit on and off the mic during transitions and bridges. Gregory provided the bass lines and counter-melodies on his fuzzy-sounding, full-scale Casio Privia (a cool switch from the finely tuned grand pianos of his fancier gigs), while Jenkins utilized a two-piece drum kit with brushes, sticks, and mallets. Gregory’s colorful solos and tasteful embellishments nurtured the melodies of each tune, tangling nicely with Jenkins’ subtle accelerations, polyrhythms, and dissipations across his bass drum, snare, and cymbals. Their occasional messin’ around was too subtle for most diners or drinkers in the room to notice.