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Vocalist Fran Hartshorn made one of her final San Diego appearances last night, performing the music of songwriting legend Harold Arlen in front of a packed house of devoted listeners in The Back Room at 98 Bottles.

The singer has been preparing diligently for this gig, which has been in the planning stages for the last few months.

She could not have assembled a finer support group than the trio of virtuoso pianist Irving Flores, double bassist Evona Wascinski and powerhouse drum-slinger Kevin Koch.

Hartshorn's vocal attributes include a sure sense of pitch and an athletic ability to hit the high notes. It took her a while to warm up--but the crowd was with her every step.

Wascinski laid down a furious walking pulse to set up "My Shining Hour," while Flores hit the ground running with ornamental flurries and percussive block chords. Hartshorn's voice is very strong--although she seems more of a cabaret singer than a jazz vocalist in my opinion. The tune wound down with an explosive exchange with left-handed drum dynamo Koch, who provided intelligent propulsion all evening.

"I've Got The World On A String," mostly belonged to Flores, who delivered a heady solo full of lightening strikes and pregnant pauses--and Wascinski, who proved that a skinny girl can produce a sound full of gorgeous curves.

The vocalist hit her stride with "Ill Wind," navigating the bluesy contours of the melody with a natural grace that sounded organic. Her phrasing was lithe and elastic--and her pitch dead on.

Flores began "Stormy Weather," with an atmospheric intro that conjured dark clouds of dissonance--he and Hartshorn made an effective duet of it-- she. with languid phrasing and controlled vibrato--he, with florid and descriptive drama.

"Paper Moon," swung like the front gate, floating on Wascinski's solid quarter-notes and Flores' ability to lock horns with Koch and dance.

Hartshorn's vocals hit another peak with "Out Of This World," really locking in with the Latin groove of the rhythm section, which made me think that her delivery might be best suited to the "straight-eighths" aesthetic.

Back in the '70s and early '80s, it wasn't uncommon for jazz musicians in San Diego to get the opportunity to play three- to- four night engagements for weeks at a time at one venue. The money was still terrible--but those opportunities allowed for players to really develop. Singers especially, benefited from this arrangement.

It's a pity Hartshorn didn't get those opportunities in San Diego. Perhaps she will in L.A.

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Photo by Michael Oletta

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