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Karin Plato Remains Grounded

The Georgia Straight (2001)

Ken Eisner

In Plato's Republic, the great Greek implored his reader to feel a greater sense of citizenship within the state. But in Karin Plato's world, an audience is asked only to consider the ideas of love, friendship, and longing, as found in the lyrics of jazz standards. Plato -  the one we're talking about here - grew up in Saskatchewan and moved westward in 1985 to study music at Capilano College, followed by a stint at the Banff Centre. The singer, who lists Shirley Horn and Nancy Wilson ("not the guitarist from Heart") as major heroes, emerged from her studies with an unusually focused voice. In the past five years, Plato has recorded four self-released albums, all featuring her darkly alluring, refreshingly unfussy singing soaring over a smart mix of classics and well-crafted originals.

"In 2000, I did something most intelligent people would not attempt," says the singer, on the line from her Vancouver home. "I made two CDs in one year. I had one almost done, and I had already had it in mind for a long time to do a Christmas album - not a Santa CD, but something evoking winter. A CD at any time isn't cheap to do, but I think I've been able to reach more people because of taking this risk."

For Snowflake Season, she dared to write new Yuletide ditties to go with gospel-tinged chestnuts like "Children, Go Where I Send Thee'. She was backed on the album by ace players like bassist Chris Tarry, trumpet virtuoso Brad Turner and pianist Lou Mastroianni, who is also her husband. She followed that with the audacious Blue Again, a collection that pairs her with guitarists as different as Bill Coon, Oliver Gannon, and Celso Machado, and acoustic bassist Torben Oxbol, who also produced the record.

Plato, who talks in hurried, clipped tones that contrast he carefully measured singing, says she's itching to record another album, and in fact, her free  jazz-festival concert at the CBC studios at noon on Monday (June 25) will be taped for possible future use. There, as at Rossini's Gastown venue on June 29 and 30, she'll be fronting a quartet featuring Coon and the bass and drums of Darren Radtke and Dave Robbins, respectively. For June 26 and 28 gigs at Zev's and O'Doul's she'll drop the drums.

Plato's planning to get even more pared down for an upcoming eastern tour, which will feature her voice with just Coon's six strings. "Musically, it's very simply, but it really works. People don't hear voice and guitar that often in jazz  - they're used to the piano - and it can be quite striking."

At just over 40, she has carved out a niche for herself, and because she releases her own CDs, she doesn't have to worry about living up to record-company-hype. "I realize that these packaging things matter in the world of entertainment. But I'm on a particular path where some doors will open and other won't. I'm not going to be everyone's cup of tea, and nobody owes me anything."

Out mostly boisterous conversation takes a sobering turn when we discuss the death of Susannah McCorkle, an artful 55-year-old singer who last month jumped out of a Manhattan high-rise window after she was simultaneously dropped by her long-time label and by the hotel lounge where she had performed for years.

"I can't imagine how horrible it must have been for her," says Plato, drawing in her breath sharply. "I think this can happen when your life is consumed by - well, when it's moving in only one direction. I know I get crazy busy trying to achieve my so-called goals, but I hope never to lose perspective on what I'm doing to the point where it interferes with my relationships with people. I'm lucky to have a husband who gives me massive amounts of support. He keeps my fee on the ground, which is not where they might naturally go otherwise."

But people who've heard her on her best nights won't want Plato to stay too grounded. "You know, I'm still not sure what makes me want to sing," she says. "I don't even know what all the ingredients are for a decent show. I've been in some concert situations, with really great musicians, where the magic hasn't quite happened, and I've also been in little neighborhood joints with just a guitar and a few friends hanging around where it felt like just the greatest night of music in the world - like time standing still - and I believe that the audience is just as much a part of that as the players are."

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