Norah Jones’s NYC Residency Reveals the Best Contradictions of Her Career

The singer/songwriter took over New York's intimate Le Poisson Rouge this week.

Music Features Norah Jones
Norah Jones’s NYC Residency Reveals the Best Contradictions of Her Career

The basement of Le Poisson Rouge, the 350-seat music club located in the heart of the East Village, is very dark. Defined by black walls and blue lighting, it’s difficult to see anything beyond the gleaming piano onstage. Those willing to shell out for the two item minimum required to score a table squint over their menus, holding them close to the flickering candles that provide the only reprieve from the near-consuming darkness. When Norah Jones strode onstage last Monday, preparing to perform the second of five shows as part of a residency at the venue this week, the spotlight hit her sparkling dress and dazzling smile, immediately ensuring that Jones would be the only source of illumination for the evening.

It may seem odd that the nine-time Grammy award winning singer-songwriter would play one of these small shows—much less five. But Jones has always been an elusive character steeped in contradiction. Her records have made pendulum swings from one genre to another, spanning from her jazzy 2001 debut album Come Away With Me, all the way to 2012’s Danger Mouse-produced pop noire Little Broken Hearts, and back again to her jazz roots with her most recent release, Day Break.

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Norah Jones at Le Poisson Rouge by DeShaun Craddock

These contradicting characteristics are perhaps most evident onstage. Within the two sets Jones played, the songs reflected her shifting character. The first run yo-yoed from opener “Peace,” a jazzy cover of the Horace Silver song, to a cheeky rendition of Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.” She made a seamless transition from upbeat “It’s a Wonderful Time for Love” to the sexy and smooth “Day Breaks.” Offering covers and originals, old stuff and new songs, loud and soft, fast and slow, acoustic and electric, Jones crafted a show that was all-encompassing and cohesive. The venue was a perfect place to showcase these nuances. In such an intimate setting where every subtlety is magnified, there was nowhere to hide; Jones’s pure talent was the glue that held the moving parts together.

Shows of this caliber have a timelessness and placelessness rare in contemporary music. Jones transformed Le Poisson Rouge into a veritable New Orleans jazz club, channeling greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday as she purred her way from “Burn” to “And Then There Was You,” “Nightingale” to “Turn Me On.” Fans hoping that the cozy setting might coax Jones into telling stories about her famously private life would be disappointed. In fact, the audience was often treated more like a bystander than a guest. Flanked by Brian Blade on drums and Chris Thomas on bass, the show frequently felt like a glorified (if expertly executed) open rehearsal. It’s clear the three enjoy jamming together: Blade would often shake his head in awe at a particularly good piano riff and, at one point in the show, Thomas seemed so moved by Jones’s voice that he clung to his bass to keep himself standing. The three chatted off-mic between songs, with Jones laughing in the microphone after an exchange, but never revealing the words shared. In an industry where personal branding and likability often trump talent, it’s refreshing to see a performer who emphasizes her playing to impress her audience. Jones maintains the audience’s focus with a quiet, but captivating, stage presence, and that is enough.

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Norah Jones at Le Poisson Rouge by DeShaun Craddock

Jones closed the show with “Come Away With Me,&#8221, the beloved title track from her debut album. To close two sets dominated by her most recent ventures with her biggest, oldest hit exposed the biggest revelation: Jones’s new material is just as good as her old. Leaving the dark venue, it was difficult to transition from the warm, sonic blanket Jones had spread over the room to the banality of another Manhattan evening. The intimate setting of Le Poisson Rouge was able to capture the artist at her best: vulnerable but closed off, familiar and impossibly stranger, a bright light in the dark.

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Norah Jones at Le Poisson Rouge by DeShaun Craddock

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