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"Listen. Love. Take Note." is the slogan of the Charlotte-based NoteWorthy Classical series – the latest livestreamed concert, featuring contemporary gospel singer Karen Poole, was certainly full of love. NoteWorthy is the result of collaboration between the FAIR PLAY Music Equity Initiative and WDAV radio, featuring David Dae-Lee Arrington of FAIR PLAY and Frank Dominguez of WDAV as co-hosts. This event continued the pattern of NoteWorthy concerts spotlighting and celebrating Charlotte's diverse artists.
Poole hails from Norfolk VA and has lived in Charlotte since 2017, and her music blends gospel, jazz, Contemporary Christian, and R&B genres to form a style all her own. Poole is celebrating the release of her debut album, Hidden, this year; she describes it as just the beginning of her forthcoming music and career.
Onstage at the Stage Door Theater, Poole's familiar band was joined by three additional instrumentalists: violinist Alice Silva, trumpet player Keenan Harmon, and trombone player Brent Ballard. These three more "classical" musicians co-created their arrangements of Poole's original songs through rehearsals that Poole described as being seamless and joyful. However, with the exception of a few notable solos, these players seemed to be underutilized, even standing still with their instruments for some of the concert, including the majority of the concert's final tune. When playing, of course, these instruments added notable texture to the existing fabric of the band.
Hue House provided video production, featuring effective and well-timed close-up shots of all the musicians onstage (and text introductions of all musicians, saving Poole the time of listing everyone's name out loud).
Several of Poole's songs, such as the opening "High Praise," feature mantra-esque phrases that grow in power through elaboration and repetition. This song's gentle sway and calming chord progression provided an underlying current for Poole's gentle but firm melody. In contrast, "You Are Here" was peppy and full of layered textures, including beautiful countermelodies in the violin, guitar, played by Stefan Kallander, and keys, played by Johnny Abraham. Kallander's guitar stylings in particular brought a calmingly folksy feel to the song. The opening verse of "Never Alone," another selection from Hidden, began deceptively low-key, blossoming into a layered mid-tempo ballad by the choruses. Poole's gospel songwriting is devoted and passionate without being too over-the-top or cloying; her words are humbly insistent with straightforward honesty.
Three accompanying vocalists, Ke'Andra Davis, Shayla St. James, and Brittany Hughes, added a great deal of color to the band. Though sometimes featured in the background, the three singers sang as a unit, creating intricacy and variety even when performing repetitive phrases, and seamlessly blending their voices for ornamentation. Compelling call-and-response sections between Poole and the vocal trio was a driving force in the build-up of energy, especially in the concert's final piece, "At the Moment." Under the foundation of Tim Scott Jr.'s dynamic and forceful drums and Courtney Gibson's steady bass, "At the Moment" transformed through several groovy jam sessions that drove the performance home with joy and positivity.
Poole's entire performance can be watched and re-watched here.