Paula West Live at Campbell Steele Gallery 11/14/08 (Review)

George, Ben, Paula, and Chris

My friend Andrew won tickets to this show from a call-in contest Campbell Steele Gallery had in their regular e-mail blast of upcoming events. The last time I had been to Campbell Steele was maybe back in 2003 or 2004 for a special Liars Holographic Theatre show where they featured original songs from the players along with some of the regular skits. It was a lot of fun, as many of the Liars shows are and I had been meaning to get back for another show so I was happy for the opportunity.

Paula West is a jazz singer from San Francisco who has been performing and recording since 1989 and has released three albums to date: Temptation (1997), Restless (1999), and Come What May (2001). Paula was booked for two nights at Campbell Steele as part of their “Cruz Steele Presents: Brand New Favorites – Live at Campbell Steele Gallery” series which included shows with Pieta Brown on October 4th, Erin Bode on October 24th and 25th and the upcoming show with Prudence Johnson on December 5th and 6th. Accompanying Paula was George Mesterhazy on piano and two local guys on bass and drums: Ben Soltau and Chris Richardson.

I got there before Andrew so I hung out and talked a bit with Priscilla Steele who was acting as greeter/bouncer for the evening and got the lowdown about the show series as well as the changes that the gallery has undertaken since the last time I was there. The stage/backdrop I had seen last time for the Liars show was taken out exposing a bar where they were serving hors d’ouvers as well as wine and beer.  In the spirit of the cabaret style of Paula West, they brought in a bunch of cafe tables for seating– a change-up from the normal rows of chairs they use for the performances. Removing the big backdrop really opened the place up, and the seating made things very cozy– especially since it was general admission.

Andrew soon showed up and we staked out our table and ordered a bottle of 2007 Castle Rock Pinot Noir that we’d both had previously.

Paula West

Paula put on a great show. I’m not normally a big fan of Great American Songbook standards, but Paula delivers them with such a beautiful and distinctive voice, it is impossible not to be completely taken in. In addition to the standards Paula throws in a couple of interpretations of Bob Dylan songs, who she said was her favorite songwriter. It is a testament to the strength of Dylan’s songwriting that the songs like “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” can translate so well to torchy, bluesy jazz versions. In fact, I think that she should consider doing an album of her Dylan covers! Her between-song banter was warm and funny. She had just wrapped up a stint at the Oak Room at the legendary Algonquin Hotel in Midtown Manhattan and said that she received a surprised response from fans there who asked where she was going next, “Marion, Iowa!” Along for her little tour was pianist and arranger/band leader George Mesterhazy who provided a brilliant backing to Paula’s vocals. The addition of Ben Soltau and Chris Richardson on bass and drums made for a very complete trio, in my opinion. Initially, I didn’t recognize Ben, but his Yamaha bass seemed pretty familiar, and I remembered the bass in the press photo for New Beat Society, and sure enough it was him! At the break I introduced myself and we talked bass and the upcoming show at the Yacht Club.

George, Ben and Chris

At the beginning of the second set, Craig came out and told the audience that the piano that George was playing was a new purchase for the gallery. Apparently it is pretty difficult and expensive to rent a baby grand piano so it was easier for them to purchase one. Friday night was the piano’s maiden voyage and Craig christened the piano “The Mesterhazy” in tribute to George’s playing it! He then pretended to break a plastic water bottle on the it to the amusement of everybody.

At the end of the end of the evening Andrew and I hung out as the audience filtered out the door and talked a bit to Craig and Priscilla some more. We also talked to George, Ben and Chris who were pretty excited about how well the performance went and were making plans for Saturday night’s show. I mentioned to George that his playing reminded me of Bill Evans, and he said that he was a fan of Bill, too, which was pretty cool.

I had a great time at the show, and certainly plan to hit any future shows they might be putting on there. It’s easy to forget sometimes that Cedar Rapids and Marion have great venues to offer when there are so many other places in the area to see shows. We are lucky to have Craig and Priscilla bringing shows like this to our area.

Click Here to look at the complete set of photos I took.

Click Here for Paula West’s Website

Upcoming show at Campbell Steele: Prudence Johnson with Special Guest Michael Johnson December 5 & 6, 2008. Tickets are $25, and you can call 319-373-9211 for information. Tell them sent you!