Dee Dee Bridgwater and China Moses
(Barbican, April 16th 2010, reviews by Sarah Ellen Hughes and Zena James.)
Friday April 16th saw an historic occasion. Dee Dee Bridgewater and her daughter China Moses have never before appeared on stage at the same gig. China Moses took the first set and Dee Dee Bridgewater took the second. This was a treat indeed.
China Moses' swinging trio from France -Fabien Marcoz, bass; Jean Pierre Derouard, drums; Raphael Lemonnier, piano- set a sturdy backing for her to deliver a tribute to Dinah Washington. Self-confessed as “not a jazz singer”, China deftly delivered the blues in crowd-pleasing soul-inspired style.She immediately won the hearts of the Barbican audience with her irresistibly cute chatter over the band’s grooves and her dashing on and off stage to fetch forgotten props.
Bubbly and charming introductions to the songs were well-balanced with soaring bluesy vocals and gutsy interpretations of Dinah’s typical repertoire. A low-down and funky “Cry Me a River” was well-delivered, as was the stunning “Resolution Blues,” the drama of which included a well-timed sip from a glass to accord with a pertinent lyric.
Thanks to the Icelandic volcano, Dee Dee almost never made it to Britain on Saturday. However, a cancelled flight wouldn’t defeat her, and she made a 14-hour mini bus journey from Stuttgart in order to satisfy a full house at the Barbican.
Adorned with multi-coloured Gypsy skirts and exuding warmth and humour, Dee Dee Bridgewater was in charge from the outset at the Barbican on Friday. In London for just one night and supported by her vocalist daughter China Moses, Dee Dee came to town determined to celebrate the oft-overlooked “strength and independence” of Billie Holiday.
And go to town she did. I was immersed in her outstanding vocal prowess and showmanship from to start to finish as she carried the full house through Billie’s cheerful thirties and early forties recording heyday and towards her gradual and painful decline, handpicking the most poignant of standards to represent the chanteuse’s chequered life and musical expression of intense love and despair.
But unlike in many of Billie Holiday’s performances, there was never a trace of vulnerability even in the most delicate of melodies and lyrics. Instead we heard Dee Dee glide from resigned regret to almost menacing forewarning of life’s injustice. A dark and utterly convincing Don’t Explain was made all the more powerful by a brilliant conversational flute solo from multi reedist/saxophonist James Carter, who, like Dee Dee, is an incredibly expressive storyteller (about to resume his solo career, starting at Ronnie Scott’s this Thursday 22nd).
High-energy, cheeky Billie was represented by the opener Lady Sings the Blues, a cabaret version of Them There Eyes (where the Broadway show-woman emerged with fine flair, complete with stunning vocal “trumpet” solo) and a racing A Foggy Day, in which we ironically were treated to definite glimpses of Ella. A scat and drum feature here was the first real moment we had to focus on the exciting work of Gregory Hutchinson.
Dutch award-winning bassist Stefan Lievestro came into his own on Billie’s 1941 self-penned signature tune Fine & Mellow, as did Carter once again in one of the finest soaring and dynamic tenor solos of the night.
As far as personal favourites go, it was already getting tricky to choose between a beautifully meaningful You’ve Changed and the spine-tingling (vocal and sax) heights of Dee Dee’s soulful God Bless The Child (for an over-sung tune it was by far the best version I’ve ever heard).
But then came the clincher. It was simply breath-taking. The stomach-churning anti-lynching poem-turned song Strange Fruit (1939) was difficult enough to listen to when Billie sang it, but this was something else. Dee Dee owned it entirely, delivering power and strength that brought the audience to its feet and brought to me a scene I will never forget.
And that’s what she came here to do – remind us of the strong, forceful and unforgettable legacy of Billie Holiday. Job done.
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