When ABC-TV’s former Primetime Live anchorwoman Diane Sawyer went to see her colleague Rondi Charleston perform at a nightclub in New York City a few years back, she wasn‘t kidding when she told Rondi, "You never told me you were really good. You could do this." Since that time, Charleston has released two solo albums and is still causing a stir with her singing, radiating a magnetic presence that can only be compared to some of the great women of classic jazz like Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horne. Her third release, a CD/DVD set entitled In My Life, adapts the song written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon as the title for her album, and performs a memorable rendition of the track on both the CD and her live show on the DVD. The CD portion of the set contains an assortment of blues, swing, bossa nova, neo-soul, and gypsy waltz applied to classic pop tunes, jazz standards and two original tracks written by Charleston and inspired by her daughter Emma who sings harmony vocals on the African-inspired chanting that outlines "Telescope." The DVD disc consists of footage taken from her concert, "Live at Lincoln Center Presents Rondi Charleston - Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola®," accompanied by her live band: Bruce Barth - piano, Sean Smith - bass, Alvester Garnett - drums, Joel Frahm - tenor saxophone, Adam Rogers - guitars, and Hadar Noiberg - flute. The DVD also has a "Meet Rondi Charleston" section, which is an up-close and personal interview with the songstress and a real treat for fans.
Chicago-native and Juilliard-trained, Rondi Charleston galvanizes her audience and her band to gather around her. The elegant depth of her airways stirs people to feel in awe of her prowess in tracks like "Beautiful" and Sting’s song "Until" which is performed with a carousal ride rhythm mixed with a gypsy waltz. She dives into the vocal melodies with confidence able to handle the reins like a pro and concentrate on how she wants to make her words to move through the listener’s ears, fastening harmonious wavelets to go in unison with the music‘s rhythms. She relies on her own freedom of expression to guide her through the phrasing of the verses, tenderly shaking the syllables in the words of "Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered" and embracing the vowels of "Baby Don’t Quit Now" like the words are succulent pieces of caramel. The smooth swing jazz scoops of "Shall We Dance" are covered in soft pulsating riffs and gaily-fused interludes, and the bossa nova jaunts of "Estate" and "Someone To Light Up My Life" move like a natural, living, breathing organism.
Her vocals take the listener on imaginative journeys, free of pretenses and filled with bars of gracefully-sprayed interplays between the musicians. In original tunes like "Ancient Steps" and "Telescope," she gathers the airy instrumentation around her and molds them as if they were made of cotton candy. She clutches the words of "Telescope" as if they were rosary beads blessed by the clergy, "Talk to me of poetry / How my imagination flies / About illusion and reality / How it feels to fantasize / As I go searching for answers and reaching for reasons / Reading in darkness / Reeling in mystery / Slowing revealing how little I know."
The DVD is just as compelling as the studio recording with the high points being when Charleston invites her daughter Emma to sing alongside with her for "Telescope," and her prolific delivery of "No More Blues" as she moves effortlessly alternating English and Portuguese lyrics. Other sidebar moments in the concert include her performance of "Shall We Dance" which had her drummer mouthing the words along with her, and the "Meet Rondi Charleston" section where she reveals some flakes of wisdom like "Find your passion and feed it," and words that will become a part of her legacy, "It’s never too late to make changes in your life. It’s never too late to re-invent yourself, and it is never too late to live your dreams."
In My Life follows Charleston’s earlier recordings on LML Music, 2001’s Love Letters and 2004’s Love Is The Thing, although by the looks of her live performance, you would think that Charleston has been doing this since she could hold a microphone around her fingers. Some people feel that they find their destiny, and others feel that their destiny finds them. It does not matter which one is true for Rondi Charleston, what is important is that singing for audiences is what she was born to do and she is doing it.