SEE-LINE WOMAN “I don’t ever want to be one of those performers who’s like a soap opera,” says Gabrielle Agachiko. “But I do want to show a little vulnerability.”
Gabrielle Agachiko's resume is impressive by any standards — studied at Juilliard, played in musical theater off-Broadway as well as with a touring production of Godspell, sang jazz with both Charlie Watts and Steve Lacy. But if Boston audiences remember her previous incarnations, it's probably from her early-'90s run with the post-punk guitar-terror squad led by Reeves Gabrels, the Atom Said, and her performance with Boston Rock Opera in the title role of Jesus Christ Superstar.
And then? Phfffttt! Gone.
"I had just played Jesus Christ, and he was 33 years old, and I was around that age, so I thought I should just find a nice, normal guy and have a baby," Agachiko tells me.
"Instead you got crucified!," chimes in Russ Gershon, and they both burst into laughter.
Gershon is Agachiko's bandmate and arranger in her current project, a septet simply called Agachiko, and I'm having tea with the both of them in a Somerville coffee house. In a way, Agachiko is still channeling JC — except through Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, and her own frank and sometimes chilling originals. The "crucifixion" of her decade-plus of married life in central Massachusetts is implied in the unabashed feminist attitude and the simmering, incantatory power of her delivery.
And it's made explicit — and leavened a bit — in the easy laughter of her sardonic stage patter, as when she introduces one song as "about my ex-mother-in-law." The song: "Your Mama." Which fits perfectly in a set with Nina's "Aunt Sarah" and "See-Line Woman" ("See-line woman dressed in red/Make a man lose his head") or Bessie's "Sugar in My Bowl." In this context, even a jazz standards like "Since I Fell for You" has a new edge. Agachiko introduces the Bacharach-David song "Wives and Lovers" as with "lyrics by Gloria Steinem," and then gives a performance that rightly reveals it as a feminist anthem.
Agachiko began a few years ago as a Nina Simone project — something Agachiko's friend Ken Field suggested they work on when she moved back to town. The band now includes Field, Gershon, trumpeter Scott Getchell, guitarist Sam Davis, bassist Blake Newman, and drummer Phil Neighbors.
Multi-instrumentalist Field (of the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble) wanted to focus entirely on flute, accounting for the unusual flavor of the band's horn section: flute, tenor sax, trumpet. With flute on top. When the band gets cooking in one of Gershon's soul-jazz arrangements, you begin to grope for comparisons — some Ray Charles/Fathead Newman setup? Wayne Shorter with James Spaulding? Not exactly.
"Getchell has a very mid-rangy, warm, Chet Baker-ish approach," says Gershon, who's also leader of the Either/Orchestra. "It actually works out well, because if he were a louder, brassier player, it would take away from the flute being the lead instrument."
The cool of the band and her musical choices are also a perfect complement to Agachiko's heat. Her "Words" is an acid-dipped satire ("for the Tea Party") set to a bossa nova beat. Another song of self-empowerment, "Now I Know," moves from swinging 5/4 for a grooving 6/8 bridge.