By IRA BOLTERMAN
Sound Waves Magazine
Heather Hardy wears a coat of many colors, and she wears it with confidence. It's penetrating presence soothes the soul with a wide variety of musical textures, each one complementing the next in a continuous chameleon-like collaboration that gives the illusion of subtle shifts that take turns dominating and supporting each other.Her music is a reflection of her approach to every decision she makes. It becomes very apparent, when seeing her perform live, that she is the leader of her quartet Little Mama. She calls the shots, but subliminally. A movement of her shoulder, or a slight turn of her head becomes not a command, but a request, that is followed all too happily by all the band members as they rise to the occasion over and over in performances that please audiences because they are pleasing themselves, and enjoying every minute.
There are many approaches to mold the attitude of a leader, and Heather Hardy pursues the route of teamwork. Having been a sideperson for the last ten years or so has given her the tools that are needed to be a successful leader.
"First of all, you've got to pick the right people. We all get along. There are no ego clashes. Because I've been a sideperson for so long, my attitude is different. I have my own songs. I have certain concepts. There's lots of room for other people's ideas."
Her presence generates respect rather than autonomy. That is the sign of a strong leader, and Heather Hardy uses this dynamic to her advantage, live, and in the studio.
The present lineup consists of Heather doing vocals and playing violin, Mike Nordberg on bass, Clayton Craddock, drums, and Hiromasa Suzuki, guitar.
Although every live performance is subtly different, there are strands that hold Little Mama together in a seamless fashion. Audience enthusiasm and support take literally no time to manifest themselves in a creative exchange that swells and expands but never falters in an evening of celebration and participation. If this is what performing is all about, then Heather Hardy has taken the concept up a notch.
When the lights open up to show the band, we are treated to a violin solo that is often sinuous, crying, staccato and modal in one breath. The level of complexity is already hinted at, but it is only a taste of the journey that you will take as you give in to this sorceress who takes you to placesyou never expected to go to. Whether you like surprises or not, she never fails to disappoint.
She has a unique way of making a musical statement that appears to be simple, but in short order, you find yourself pleasantly deceived into realizing the complexity of the short trip you have taken has not only satisfied your needs as a member of the audience, but at the same time you are an active participant in the performance. Your taste buds have just begun to arouse themselves as you find yourself shouting and cheering not only in approval, but beckoning this artist who dares to enter your consciousness and meet you with an unassuming, but compelling presence.
During a vocal or a solo, this diminutive parcel of energy literally fills the room with her presence. Every inch of space in the venue becomes drenched in simple chordal, rhythmic and vocal constructions that belie their complex phrasings. You are hooked. There's no way out. Being a prisoner has never been so satisfying.
As one would expect, it has taken years of experience, discipline, and dedication to become a virtuoso and to reach an extraordinary level of expertise in pleasing an audience.
Heather began to hone her musical skills by studying piano at the age of six. In the fourth grade, she took violin lessons from teachers she remembers fondly because they were not only effective, but they encouraged her to play and enjoy what she was doing.
In high school, she was fortunate to study violin with Richard Errante, who was a student of renowned teacher Rafael Bronstein. At the Manhattan School of Music, she studied with Bronstein himself.
For a while, Heather tried her skills as a street musician in Greenwich Village. One of her mentors was Don Houston, an icon in the Village music scene. Classical training does not usually go hand in hand with improvisation. It was at this time in her life, that contact with self taught, unconventional musicians turned her soul towards the magic of improvising.
"I was trained to be precise….scales, sonatas…. The hardest thing is letting go…..doing things you're not sure of…..Improvising gave a whole new color to the music. Not thinking about the notes and feeling it."
As skills in this relatively new area became enhanced, Heather became ubiquitous in the East Village session scene, playing with punk bands and folk singers. A European tour with the band False Prophets firmly defined her preference and love for improvising.
Back in the States, she hooked up with The Sam Taylor Band, which included a horn section. Originally asked to join as a featured soloist, she soon became a vocalist and violinist of the highest caliber. It was Taylor, who gave her the tag "Little Mama", which has become the name of her current ensemble.
Her first solo CD effort, Violins, received laudatory reviews. After an impromptu jam with John Mayall in Sedona, he referred to her as "absolutely brilliant".
When Heather performs live, histrionics become unnecessary. The raw emotion of the performance allows her the freedom to sway and move gracefully and sensually in direct response to the band and her own solos and vocals. Her voice is clearly defined. Lyrics are well formed and easily understood, an anomaly in this day and age. She can push her voice to it's outer limits, or she can blow breathe close to the microphone with subtle inflections that defy categorization. The air around her becomes soaked in an aura of exquisite elegance that allows the spaces between the notes to become stamped with her interpretation.
Her judicious use of the wah wah pedal in her solos allows her violin to become the perfect complement to her voice, which incidentally, you never tire of throughout the entire performance. She is very careful not to overdo her volume. She wants to keep you involved at a substantial level from beginning to end. If only more singers would perfect this valuable technique. Every performer has a lot to learn from Heather Hardy.
Her current band members provide the perfect ensemble playing that Heather requires for her demanding skills as a performer. They must be subtle and responsive to meet her demands as she purrs, swings or rocks out in a mischievous shuffle that could wind up anywhere.
It's almost as though you were in her living room. She makes you feel welcome. You are a part of her being. Lyrics become comforting. Even when she launches into a searing, smoking, hovering, and soaring violin solo, her tight rhythm section holds it all together by bouncing along with her and laying a solid foundation for any direction that might be taken. No matter how hard this band pushes, there is always enough room for the song to dance and float.
Why a major label has not signed this bullet proof act is a mystery. Indeed, having a CD out with national distribution is one of Heather's immediate goals. As with any true artist, she never feels that she has attained her potential. There is always room for improvement.
Keep an eye out for Heather Hardy. Make it a point to see her act. You will be drawn into her mystique like so many of her peers and followers. Once you sample a portion of this musical phenomenon, you will never be satisfied with just one more performance.
Photo © 2000 Rita Weigand. All Rights Reserved.