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Andra Day Soars at Special Club Show at New York’s Legendary Blue Note: Concert Review

It’s a strange sensation to see an artist who you last saw performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before a global audience of 120 million-plus at the Super Bowl singing ten feet in front of you at the Blue Note jazz club in New York’s Greenwich Village. But that was the consolation prize for 400 lucky fans who may not have been invited to the Met Ball on Monday night but certainly had a more satisfying feast for the ears.

Over two sets at the intimate venue, Day and her stellar eight-piece band premiered many songs from her new album, “Cassandra (Cherith)” (named after her birth name and a Biblical allusion meaning “to cut away”), which drops on Friday and includes the first new music from her since the release of the soundtrack to “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” the 2021 biopic for which she scored a best-actress Oscar nomination for her performance as the legendary titular jazz singer.

“I’m very nervous but so happy to be here in New York, back onstage,” she said at the top of the first set. “I have really wanted to bring that live-band energy onto this next record. I just feel most comfortable when I’m creating with my band.”

And if there’s one thing the set had, it was live-band energy. While the new album was the main bill of fare, this was anything but the sterile play-the-new-songs-we-just-learned showcase that such concerts sometimes can be. Day and the musicians — guitar, bass, drums, two keyboards and three backing singers, somehow jammed onto the Blue Note’s small stage — were loose but tight like a great jazz/R&B band should be, taking flashy but unostentatious solos and incorporating other songs into her new ones.

They opened with a medley of Holiday’s harrowing “Strange Fruit” and “Tigress & Tweed” from the film’s soundtrack; Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady” got worked in with the new song “Narcos” (and we think we heard a snippet of Badu’s “On & On” slipped into one of the songs); “Nervous” incorporates a melody from Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze”; “Where Do We Go From Here” has a whiff of D’Angelo’s “How Does It Feel?,” and they also included their innovative take on Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” (from the 2015 tribute album “Nina Revisited”) in between new tracks.

While Day is very much her own artist, Badu and D’Angelo are solid signposts for “Cassandra” and its nimble fusion of hip-hop-informed R&B and jazz: a world-class singer who can belt when she wants to but is nuanced and never over-sings, backed by a disciplined but swinging set of musicians who can move from a complex jazz rhythm to Latin-inflected grooves at the drop of a hat. It’s an enormous progression from — and much more personal and assured than — her debut, which was released nearly a decade ago.

Day was chatty and at times hilarious when talking with the audience between songs. The album clearly has a breakup theme, and she referenced it often. Before “Next Time” she said, “I’m not gonna lie to you guys, I’m a little bit pettier on this record than I’ve been in the past,” she said to laughter. “I try to take the high road and be like ‘It’s me,’ self-examining. But now I’m just like, ‘It’s your fault.”

And although she largely avoided material from her first album, she closed the set with a stunning version of “Rise Up,” her biggest hit. She showed the full range of her formidable vocal ability, soaring up and down the scale, going big and then quiet, throwing in jazzy vamps and gentle sighs, bringing the song to a galvanizing climax before bringing it back down and closing the set.

After she and the band exited the stage through the audience — as performers often do at the Blue Note — she lingered for a moment at one table. As she walked away it became clear she’d been chatting with Glenn Close, with whom she appears in the forthcoming Lee Daniels film “The Deliverance” (and who’d also appeared at Variety’s Power of Women New York event late last week, honoring Mariska Hartigay.

It was that kind of night.

Strange fruit / Tigress & Tweed
Maybe Next Time
Narcos / Bag Lady
Bottom of the Bottle
Mississippi Goddamn
Where Do We Go
In the Meantime
Rise Up

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