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April 13, 2013

Tanya Holt and Marcus Simeone are so symbiotic onstage in Quiet Storm, it’s as if they’ve been working together for a decade. Both artists approach material from the inside out, expressing emotion with sincerity and phrasing rather than gesture or volume, communicating even the deepest of these without abrasive vocal stress. Both have polished presence. The two voices weigh in and play off one another with finesse. During a duet, Holt sometimes reacts to what Simeone is singing as if sharing an intimate opinion with the audience. Simeone has a habit of affectionately touching his partner or taking her hand. She’s still, he moves as if music’s coursing through him; she looks into our eyes, he channels his own experience. Holt deftly handles minimal patter. They face one another with warmth, neither angling for the spotlight.

The duo’s latest show at the Metropolitan Room is an appreciative nod to R&B radio station WBLS. “I’m quiet and he’s the storm,” Holt comments, smiling. It might also be construed as reference to the calm at the center of a storm represented by the tenor of the evening. The poetry of Jimmy Webb’s “Beyond Myself”: “Among my demeanors and dark dreams/I stood with hate and bitterness/My pride is like a furnace/Low and light” is rendered grave and feathery, while a tandem “It’s All Right with Me” (an odd choice for its necessary lyric change) and “Them There Eyes” is jaunty. Songs by Ashford & Simpson and Anita Baker provide the smoothest nostalgia.
A terrific version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” to seriously thumping piano, is a staccato to satin, sell-it-brother spiritual.

Holt offers a subdued and wrenching “No Plans for the Future” and a simply gorgeous “Black Butterfly,” whose lustrous tone and eloquent phrasing lifts us in hope of open wings. She just keeps getting better. Simeone’s “End of the World” is as delicate as it is strong. His interpretation of “Strange Fruit” unleashes controlled and gripping cadence; lyrics implore with open arms. Upper octaves create visceral frisson.

Arrangements by Musical Director/pianist Tracy Stark offer easy, textural harmony marrying pop to R&B. Lina Koutrakos’s direction is perceptive in its use of each performer’s assets and visually appealing. With Marco Brehm on bass and Donna Kelly on drums.

By Alix Cohen

© Cabaret Scenes / April 13, 2013