Moffitt Woos Feve Crowd

Will Roane, Staff Writer

The stars in the Oberlin sky shone brightly onto a chilly South Main Street on Sunday as jazz vocalist Nina Moffitt, OC ’09, set up her amplifier to play a special show with Feveband at The Feve.

After sorting through some feedback from her microphone, she and Feveband played two diverse and radiant sets, filled with classic jazz standards made all the more vital by distinctive arrangements by Moffitt and College senior and Feveband leader Rafiq Bhatia, as well as some staggering Feveband originals.

The night began quietly, with Feveband’s interpretation of “Equinox” by John Coltrane seeming to summon people from their textbooks and papers. The slightly empty bar suddenly filled and bustled by the time Moffitt came up to sing her first song — her classic and timeless arrangement of the Gershwin tune “I Loves You, Porgy.”

“Before singing ‘I Loves You, Porgy,’ she watched at least one version of the opera Porgy and Bess in its entirety and investigated many of the major vocal and instrumental recorded versions of the song,” Bhatia explained. “The result is an informed and personal interpretation that speaks to Nina’s unique relationship to the meaning of the song.”

But Moffitt’s arrangement is not only beautiful — it also reflects her idea about what it means to sing with other musicians. She feels that there need not be a hard-drawn line between the realm of vocalists and instrumentalists and strives to approach singing as an instrumentalist would.

“It’s about listening; you have to be on equal footing,” she said. “I believe the best jazz vocalists interacted with their instrumentalists.”

With a voice full of reedy, charming timbre, Moffitt successfully interacted with Feveband, at times seeming to duet with not only Bhatia’s guitar, but also Conservatory junior Jackson Hill’s bass and Conservatory junior Austin Vaughn’s drums. During the solo section, she sang a scat solo that exhibited as much depth of feeling as the solos of any of the other members of the band.

But Moffitt, who will release a new EP (produced by senior composition and TIMARA major Alexander Overington) on Jan. 3, was also perfectly content to sit and listen to the interplay between the three members of Feveband, such as during their heart-racing performance of Ornette Coleman’s “R.P.D.D.”

As the house lights dimmed, creating a mysterious atmosphere that matched the irresolute melody, Bhatia continually jerked and bowed toward the audience as he explored the stratosphere of his instrument’s range. Vaughn closed his eyes and bent toward his drums with fervor. Hill walked his bass briskly, like it was late to class on a bone-cold February morning.

Feveband, which stretched the bounds of jazz in a performance with Indian-American saxophonist Aakash Mittal last month, proved it could play classic standards as well when Moffitt joined the band for “Autumn Leaves.” The interpretation was so original that the tune was difficult to recognize until Moffitt began to sing the first few lines — at which point Bhatia’s surprising arrangement made perfect sense, even though it stretched the airwaves seemingly unfeasibly.

The night then continued with more creative arrangements of classic tunes that seemed to emanate from the band members, who showed once again that they’re at home with any musician by playing with Moffitt like they’d been practicing these songs for years — which, in a way, is not too far from the truth.

“Rafiq and Jackson are an integral part of my music,” she said between hugs from ecstatic audience members and old friends from her time as a student at Oberlin. “We’ve been playing together for about two years.”

The band chose to end the night on a high, bluesy note with Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” which had a swagger and energy that carried the audience home through the cold.

Through this show, and especially this song, one may find that it’s perfectly fine to run like the river, and equally acceptable to find one’s way home. Moffitt and Feveband’s embrace of time-honored jazz standards and their idea of how they want the music to change suggests that knowing and reveling in your roots can only help you, if you recognize that looking over your shoulder may allow you to see ahead more clearly.