Friday, March 5, 2010

Whitney Nichole and Ziva

I moseyed on down to the quaint Grant and Green Saloon in SF this past Tuesday night (March 2nd) to catch songwriters Whitney Nichole and Ziva. I met these ladies through the recently formed San Francisco Songwriter's Circle... and was instantaneously impressed with their positivity, drive for music and professionalism, and their efforts to be so open and supportive of their local music community. (I am tremendously taken by a good attitude, and it makes me that much more inclined to go out of my way to reciprocate support.) 
These ladies have differing sounds - but there are some commonalities that made them a decent fit for a bill; They are both competent songwriters, confident performers - and they know their own voices and strengths, and their way around a piano. 

Whitney embodies the sound that she creates. Sweet, approachable, and genuine. Her lyrics and progressions are direct and accessible. She executes a wholesome sound - but certainly not timid. Whitney uses safety of structure to her advantage - her narrative vocal approach soars as often as it speaks, and its flawless tone sugars the songs. I repeatedly recalled (the incredible) Patty Griffin as she sang. That's as much an unflinching observation as it is a compliment.
The majority of her set, she was joined by her sister Shelby on backing vocals. LET ME TELL YOU PEOPLE - IF YOU HAVE A CLOSE RELATIVE THAT SINGS - HAVE THEM SING WITH YOU! There is nothing like genetics to facilitate incredible complimentary tones and harmony. Shelby backed with grace (staying frequently in a higher register) and a tasteful amount of support. 
To further emphasize my newfound enthusiasm for collaboration and community, Whitney had Ziva join her on percussion for several songs. Ziva's band mates Be'eri Moalem (viola) and Julia Jukiwicz (cello) also popped up to join her. Whitney's songs are so accessible, they are perfect for accompaniment. 

My positive sum of Whitney:
1) The simple pop song prevails yet again.
2) Staying true to strengths instead of overplaying works - especially when the voice is the intended  focus.
3) Memorable melodies, relatable lyrics. 
My gentle criticisms:
1) With such basic structures, I was left a bit hungry for more compelling lyrics and themes.
2) I felt really moved when she dug a little deeper with progressions and dynamics - I'd love to see her brave that a bit more.

I feel it necessary to appreciate a few things about Ziva Hadar and the impression she has made on me. I am incredibly charmed by the dichotomy of her (bantam) physical stature and her (commanding) personality. She exudes strength and presence and is quite the charismatic business woman. (Personally - She's already spoon-fed me incredible resources and opportunities, called me on my shit, and has lit several fires under my ass. Not bad for someone I've met only a handful of times!)

Anyway, back to the show...Ziva and her band (collectively known as Ziva) concluded the evening. They have an eclectic style - jazzy, bluesy, rock. Occasional exotic rhythms. The group is a six piece (besides violaist Be'eri and cellist Julia, Ziva is comprised of bassist/vocalist Kipp Glass, guitarist/backup vocalist Jonny Jimmerson, and drummer Miles Escobedpo) - they have all done well to temper dynamics and play for the songs. 
Ziva Hadar is incredibly powerful to observe. She provokes her piano and propels her songs with admirable composure and intention. Her voice is dimensional and sure from its deepest brooding lows to fierce highs. Another of her smarts - the band behind her serves as an army of confidence and cause her progressions to explode. Besides having a capable standard instrumental accompaniment - let's face it - talented stringed players are an incredible investment and a sonic treasure to have in company - especially live. 
One of my favorite things while experiencing Ziva perform was observing the chemistry and between Ziva and Kipp Glass. They truly seem connected, and they worked together as the driving element of the music. Kipp has quite the set of pipes himself - and he certainly helped pronounce Ziva's vocal inflections. Three part harmonies appeared on occasion...which, when done as well as they did, is a decadent addition.
The band's genre identity is hard for me to define - sort of theatrical and loungey... dramatic always... but not unreasonably so. They definitely have rock moments as well. Each song felt cohesive, which is the most important part. I appreciated Ziva incorporating a healthy dose of instrumental focus, some solo piano/vocal moments, the treat of her singing in Hebrew (she's an Israel native), and the novelty of a cover from the musical Rent (pulled off somewhat straight-faced. Awesome!).

My positive sum of Ziva:
1) Ziva Hadar knows herself and she works it.
2) Fearless genre bridging. Hard to pull off.
3) Compatible and professional musicianship.
My gentle criticisms:
1) I felt a little alienated emotionally at times when the band would get really dynamic - I would have benefited from a bit more banter between songs or stories to set help me join in the ride (what can I say, I need a little foreplay). Perhaps some vamps or buildups into big changes.
2) My disclaimer: some of this was the venue's humble sound system and lack of monitors - but I could have used a little help understanding the words. (Annunciation can be a bitch. I struggle with this live myself.) Again, I could have been helped by some subject introductions before songs.

Overall, I found the night to be worth my trek to SF... the music was satisfying, the musicians inspiring, the Guinness abundant, and the company amongst my favorite (my K & L partner in crime Betsy Adams was there). It was also nice to partake in the show without a cover charge. 
These women are badasses. I will continue to invest in their success and revel in their insights.
Come see for yourself:
*Whitney will play the Beal St. Bar in SF on March 27th.
*Ziva will play at Pier 23 in SF on May 18th. (Joined by Aaron Durr, and yours truly - Kindness and Lies!)
Check their websites for more info (linked in my first paragraph).

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