The curse of “American Idol” has severely stilted exploration of any music beyond the “safe” confines of dreary pop pablum. Case in point: Lalah Hathaway and Rahsaan Patterson made their reputations living on the edges of pop, staunchly refusing to bow to the pressures of major label dictums that insisted on perfect looks, factory issued songs and robotic dance movements. But the 21st century has not been kind to either artist, as they linger in limbo, searching for a label that will allow them the flexibility to create great art. To that end, they put on this L.A. showcase to satisfy their faithful. In two hours, Patterson gave a lesson in vocalese, while Hathaway’s rich alto gave life to elegant ballads recorded over her career.
Patterson recently suffered the indignity of being dropped from his label despite immense critical praise for two albums worth seeking out — 1997’s “Rahsaan Patterson” and 1999’s “Love In Stereo.” Hathaway, the daughter of the late, great Donny Hathaway, has been relegated to urban adult/jazz cult status. She gained notoriety for her collaboration with jazz pianist Joe Sample on 1999’s “The Song Lives On” offering.
Patterson entered to “Take Me Back Home,” a gospel tune that got the evening off to a rousing start. Dressed casually in a slim black body shirt and rust pants tucked into laced-up leather boots, Patterson flexed his immense range, leaping from a wiry tenor to a deep bass at will.
He breezed through the semi-autobiographical “Sure Boy” into his signature hit, “Where You Are,” off his first album. The audience gleefully sang along during the very catchy chorus. Patterson then debuted “April Kiss,” from “After Hours,” an album already recorded but seeking a home. Patterson stretched out a handful of songs, including “I Always Find Myself” and “Can We Wait a While,” during the remaining time left — a bit disappointing because he has such a respectable and substantial body of work to plumb.
Hathaway, garbed in a flowery red kimono and a yellow orchid in her hair, was the epitome of style, grace and aplomb. She opened with her first hit, “Baby Don’t Cry,” from her 1990 debut. It is a blueprint contemporary R&B vocalist Faith Evans capitalized on years later.
Hathaway gave solid interpretations of the classic “Fever” and the Crusaders’ “Street Life.” During this song, Hathaway invited the audience to sing along, only to playfully chastise several for singing “street light” instead of the actual title. It got a good laugh.
Patterson later joined Hathaway at the encore on Donny and Roberta Flack’s celebratory “Back Together Again.”
With support from the industry as a whole, artists such as these might easily pack in venues twice this size. But as long as shows like “American Idol” continue to dilute expectations, Rahsaan and Lalah may have to join their hip-hop brethren and go underground until they’re suddenly “rediscovered” as the masters of their art.