For the first of her two-night performance as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival, the "Marshians" came out in full force to see Marsha Ambrosius. Now in its third year, the Blue Note Jazz Festival has continued to get bigger and better, with this year boasting 150 shows throughout the month of June, taking place at 16 venues throughout the NYC.
But I was particularly excited about the Marsha Ambrosius show, a Jill Newman Production, at the Blue Note. I mean, we're talking about the woman who wrote the Michael Jackson hit "Butterflies" here. Not only is she a fantastic songwriter, but her voice does things to me physically — I get chills when I listen to her belt it out like the best of them, or take a song vocally to places where one would imagine angels and fairies reign. Sounds corny I know, but you must understand, I think this woman's voice is just heavenly. Or should I just call her "one bad heffer" like Patti LaBelle did following Ambrosius' tribute performance on the 2011 BET Awards?
[Photo: Getty Images]
Because the Blue Note maxes out at a 200-person capacity, the nature of any show seen there is intimate by default. I was blessed with one of the better seats in the cozy confines of the Blue Note – dead center and directly facing the stage. So I could (and almost did) reach out and touch Marsha as she made her way onto the stage smartly clad in a summery white blouse and white jeans, topped off with a contrasting black blazer. As much as I am a fan of Ambrosius, I am equally in awe of her trademark big hair, but she opted for a polished pompadour for this occasion and I wasn't mad at her. In a few words, she looked fabulous, and she sounded spectacular. Flanked by a keyboardist and a drummer, Ambrosius got comfortable in the middle of the stage and started her set with the title track off her post-Floetry solo album, Late Nights & Early Mornings. She hit some notes towards the end of the song that brought the hairs on my arms to attention. "Testing, testing, 1-2-3. Marsha Ambrosius in the NYC. Yes, I rap in my spare time," Ambrosius teased the audience as she then made her way stage left and cozied up to the piano. "Yes, it's going to get sexual in here," she warned. "I think it's the purple lighting. Just get comfortable..." And she seemed just that as she performed the steamy and seductive song "With You." Next up was "Stay," which Ambrosius explained was actually written one summer in her mom's house in London, with a "very special person." Ambrosius shocked me when she called herself ratchet and encouragingly stated, "We've signed a waiver, I give you permission to sing along and be as ratchet as you want to be." She knew we would not be able to help ourselves once she went into the song she wrote in 1997 and is wowed to still be performing in 2013, my fave "Butterflies." I didn't know that Ambrosius was a librarian in London, crushing on a guy who worked in McDonald's sweeping the floor, who she used to sit and stare at while she ate cheeseburgers and apple pies, when she was moved to write this song. I sat there and waved my imaginary lighter in the air and nodded my head in agreement as Ambrosius took a moment to reflect how over the years she's transitioned into this "somewhat confident, somewhat elegant, totally ratchet individual."
For those waiting for Ambrosius to put her music where her mouth was and show us ratchet, she didn't disappoint. "Can I go in on a bitch who I'm not f#*king with right now?" she asked. With our permission, Ambrosius went in, in flawless falsetto no less, with "Hope She Cheats on You (With A Basketball Player), complete with hilarious ad libs that went a little something like, "You... You... You stupid ass. You... You... You stupid ass motherf#*ker." After the audible audience amusement subsided, Ambrosius took a moment to share that she thought "Hope She Cheats..." was one of the funniest songs she's ever written, but which came from a very real place. It's that "real place" from which songs like "Alone Together" (which Ambrosius recorded with fellow Brit Daley) are created. The audience got a real treat when the co-creator of "Alone Together" — Canei Finch — hopped onto the stage and worked the piano as Ambrosius sang the song, another personal fave. The next song was one that hasn't even been released yet, but Ambrosius said will be in the next few days and that she was performing for the very first time that evening. "This goes out to anyone who can testify, when love hurts it can make you go out of your mind," Marsha intimated as she sang "I'm out of my head, in this bed, without you..." After the song was over (and I was feeling it so I didn't want it to end but oh well) Ambrosius thanked the audience for letting her "share new things" that she said she's always nervous about and broke into a splash of songs that she said are intended to "go on your playlist so you can go home and make babies to it. Or break up to it" — "Say Yes", "It's Getting Late" and "Far Away." As I watched Ambrosius in her zone, eyes closed and right hand engaged in a constant, fluid motion that syncopated her effortless lyrical ebb and flow, I took a moment to appreciate the true talent that Marsha Ambrosius is, and acknowledged with silent anticipation my excitement for what musical greatness surely is to come. For anyone who hasn't checked out Late Nights & Early Mornings (released in 2011 on J Records), you still have time to take it in before the sophomore project Friends & Lovers comes out. In the meantime, there's always the Essence Music Festival this July, and Ambrosius' musical appearance with Anthony Hamilton in The Best Man Holiday, due out this November.
[Photo: Getty Images]