Live Review: Stephanie Spruill at the E Spot Lounge in Studio City, CA

Material: Stephanie Spruill’s dual status in the industry as a legendary vocal teacher and vocalist on over 1,400 recordings allows her an expansive range of styles and influences to draw from when she’s in the spotlight. The centerpieces of her explosive, dynamics-rich hour-plus set—“Summertime,” “Dindi” and “Here’s To Life”—were from her 2014 album It’s A Jazz Day. Yet Spruill and her funked- up band really went to town on the opening gospel jam “Golden” and the slamming, social commentary-infused James Brown medley “Get On Up”/“This is a Man’s World.”

Musicianship: Though Spruill covers a lot of genres, and is a powerhouse force of nature when she’s on the mic, she has the deferential sensibilities of a jazz singer when it comes to letting the artistry of her band members shine at all the right moments. On “Golden,” she harmonized magically with her vocalists, and on “Summertime,” she let Peewee Hill, Nunez and Shaheed hold court. Michiko Hill’s lush piano made for a perfect partnership with the subtler side of Spruill’s voice on “I’ll Be There For You” and “Here’s To Life.”

Performance: Whether she was drawing the audience in with sensuality, powerful emoting, using her flowing dress as a billowy dance partner or telling lively anecdotes, Spruill was a commanding presence that engaged the eyes and ears from the get-go. While her work behind the scenes as a teacher and session and touring vocalist has thus far overshadowed her career as a solo performer, she has all the tools to reverse that trend any time she wishes.

Summary: After easing sensually through “Sweet Control,” a smooth jazzy tune she penned with Jeff Lorber, Spruill revealed that she and
her group of stalwarts pulled off this high octane show with a single rehearsal. That speaks to the effortless professionalism of each musician, and opened the doors for some exciting spontaneity and personal moments, which captured the audience throughout.

The Players: Stephanie Spruill, lead vocals; Michiko Hill, music director, piano; Peewee Hill, bass; Buddy Nunez, guitar; Stacey Lamont Sydnor, drums; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet; Mariah Maxwell, backing vocals; Retha DeJohnette, backing vocals.

Photo by Jonathan Widran 

Venue: The E Spot Lounge
City: Studio City, CA
Contact: robyncarmona@aol.com
Web: spruillhousemusic.com

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