I admit that curiosity got the better of me: I wanted to see Lisa Simone not because I knew her music or anything about her, but rather because she is the great Nina Simone’s daughter. That must be tough for her, always treading in the giant footsteps left by such an indomitable artist and personality. But, for better or for worse, Lisa Simone has managed to carve out a musical niche for herself that is only tenuously linked to her mother’s.
It’s difficult not to compare the two. Where Nina raged, Lisa soothes. Where Nina’s classical training was obvious, Lisa’s next-generation love of a good beat shines through. Where Nina challenged us to confront reality, Lisa invites us to take shelter from it. Where Nina was a little frightening, Lisa makes us want to spend an afternoon drinking tea in her no doubt beautiful and comfortable home: I envision lots of purple and pink and crystals and wind chimes. Maybe a unicorn or two, and some rainbows.
But enough with the comparisons; Lisa deserves to be appreciated as an artist in her own right. Her tunes are mostly laid-back, mellow, very personal. At least two of them dealt with her love for her now-18-year old daughter. Another one was about an imaginary world filled with flowers and butterflies. Her voice is lovely, reminding me at times of Sade’s. I found the lyrics a little banal in general, like someone singing a self-help book: she had the audience chanting “Let’s move all the negativity out of the way.” Nothing wrong with a little positive self-talk, but I do think a good lyric takes the feeling and transmutes it into art somehow; her lyrics kind of got stuck at an early stage in the process.
Her band—guitar, bass, drums—was great, and there was a good energy among them onstage. And she did pay tribute to her mother: she sang “If You Knew,” written by Nina for Lisa in the 60s, as well as “Ain’t Got No,” which very much highlighted the differences between mother and daughter.
Michael Kaeshammer’s opening act was something else altogether. The man is a monster on the piano, and a consummate and charismatic entertainer. He played with a 6-piece band, all of them exceptional musicians. The trumpeter deserves special mention: his pure tone and sensitive improvising impressed.
A stride and boogie-woogie guy, classically trained in his youth, Kaeshammer knows his way around the keyboard. His virtuosity was mind-boggling—overheard at intermission: “I thought there must have been two pianos!”—but so was his musicality. He could go from thunderous pounding to the most subtle pianissimo in a split second. He fully realized the piano’s percussive potential, but could also spin a beautiful melody. He maintained constant communication with his band, allowing for total spontaneity, but also connection, at all times. And he was funny, cracking jokes, talking with the crowd and even taking the horn section through the audience while playing, New Orleans style. He ended his act with a New Orleans tribute to Canada’s 150th birthday, and a moving tribute it was, encapsulating, like his entire act, the power, the party, and the profundity of music-making.
Michael Kaeshammer and Lisa Simone played at Théâtre Maisonneuve July 6 at 8pm as part of the FIJM.