Story and Photos by James Walker
Sultry vocalist Julia Huff wasted little time diving into the first of her three sets at Close Up 2 on May 16th before a very celebrative and festive crowd. Ms. Huff was on a mission and was in rare form as she "revved" up the audience with a couple of upbeat R&B selections after the "Company band" warmed up the crowd with "Ain't No Stopping Me Now" This was a very appropriate introductory number, as it was the theme song of smooth jazz bassist Wayman Tisdale who unexpectedly passed away the previous day.
The lovely Ms. Huff had the crowd eating out of her hand the moment she opened her mouth. She's the consummate professional who knows how to work a room, and she did that with perfection all night long. It took her exactly one minute to kick off her 6-inch heels and begin to mesmerize the crwod with an exciting version of "Billie Jean. What a start!!!!
"Summertime" was next on the agenda and this upbeat version of Gershwin's classic song from "Porgy and Bess" was quite unique. Her arrangement put a completely different spin on this number which usually is done in a ballad mode. She used her instrument with effect and affect, scatting unlike this listener had ever seen from her in the past.
Randy Crawfor's "Rio de Janeiro" was next, as she put feeling into each word of this song. She's very convincing and contnued in this mode on Phyllis Hyman's "You Know How to Love Me" and "I Can't Stand This Feeling." Phyllis would have been proud of how she sang this song.
The band, consisting of drummer Malcom Banks, keyboardist Roger Weaver and bassist Dexter Sims began the 2nd set with an appealing rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." Both Banks and Sims displayed exceptional skill of extended solos.
Julia's first number of this set was Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody," followed by Anita Baker's "My Angel." I'm not sure if Anita could have done this number any better. She began working the room again as she acknowledged those in the audience celebrating graduations and anniversaries while she belted out Earl Garner's "Misty." She concluded the set with Alicia key's "If I Ain't Got You," hitting every note and thoroughly entertaining this appreciative crowd.
Ms. Huff highlighted the last set with Miles Davis' classic "All Blues" (Oscar Brown later penned the lyrics to this song). She concluded this very successful evening of jazz and R&B with Al Green's "Let's Stay Together."
It had been several months since this writer had seen the talented Ms. Huff, and she certainly was on top of her game on this evening. If you haven't seen her lately, or have never had the privilege of experiencing a Julia Huff set, do yourself a favor and check her out in the very near future. She appears at the M Lounge in the South Loop the first and third Tuesdays of each month and often dons the Back Room stage on Rush Street.
For future Close Up 2 events, refer to their website at www.closeup2jazz.com.