Concert review

from the New York Times; October 26, 1995
by Jon Pareles

NEW YORK - When Jane Siberry asked for questions from her audience at the Fez on Monday night, she got one: "Do you have any idea what it is that you're channeling?" She deflected it with a laugh, but her songs invite speculation on the otherworldly.

With sultry incantations and open-ended music, Ms. Siberry ruminates over humanity's place in the universe and over love in many forms: romantic, maternal, divine.

For the first time in five years, she is touring with a band, and she has transformed her music in the interim. As Joni Mitchell, one of her models, did in the 1970s, Ms. Siberry has shifted from folky, guitar-centered songs to music steeped in jazz; her new band, similar to the one on her current album, "Maria" (Reprise), is a jazzy quartet of piano, bass, drums and trumpet.

Ms. Siberry can write ballads with tender, memorable choruses, among them her encores Monday, "Calling All Angels" and "Love Is Everything." At the Fez (380 Lafayette Street, at Great Jones Street), where she is performing Friday and Saturday, she mingled her own songs with old pop hits from "O-o-h Child" to "The Girl From Ipanema," which she turned into a fantasy of polysexual desire.

At beginning and end she sang "Moon River," its title holding symbols of femininity and flow, its lyrics about longing. But while the hits honored pop forms, Ms. Siberry's own songs dissolved them. "You're moving past the walls of the city to the great openness," she intoned in "Begat Begat."

Above rippling jazz vamps, she sang lullabylike tunes or repeating, undulating phrases. She changed lyrics and toyed with tempos, and eventually she left behind language for wordless, atmospheric oohs and ahs and ohs.

Ms. Siberry rarely tried to be a hard-swinging jazz singer, but she has learned how to curl a phrase like a wisp of smoke, how to linger or slide on a chosen note.

She could sound knowing or wide-eyed, childlike or maternal, as she sang about children separated from mothers, about whimsical lovers, about people lost in landscapes. What could have been fey and self-indulgent was, instead, playful and exploratory, filled with possibilities.

Copyright 1995 The New York Times