After a sweetly harmonized "Tryin' Times" from 1970 by Donny Hathaway and a rocking version of "Compared to What" by Gene McDaniels ("The president, he got his war / Folks don't know just what it's for"), Rene Marie pauses to ask two questions: "Do you remember when it was not unusual for jazz composers to write about social issues? What happened?" There's a pause, and then Carla Cook says off-mic, "The '80s." The audience hears her and laughs. Rene Marie continues with Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
From the KC Jazz Club in Washington, D.C., this is only the second performance ever by the group, though you'd never know it. Extraordinary back-up comes from Eric Gunnison on piano, Mark Simon on bass and Paul Romaine on drums — all from Denver, the city where they performed for the first time at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
"Two Skirts and a Shirt" is a clever Marie original to open the show. The inspirational "Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down" is by bluesman Eric Bibb. Moving along, every voice gets a solo feature. Cook — the alto — chooses "Strong Man" by Oscar Brown Jr., best known from the Abbey Lincoln recording. Allan Harris' original is the romantic "Can't Live My Life Without You."
The rest of this set is a sweet vocal showcase — three-part harmonies are fresh and hard to find in contemporary jazz — so here's a chance to enjoy it.