Golden Gate Quartet / Harlem Gospel Choir
(Royal Festival Hall, part of London Jazz Festival, 19th November, review by Alison Hoblyn)
The London Jazz Festival has brought us a width of talent, young and old, and the 82 year old Clyde Wright, singer in the Golden Gate Quartet will - along with Jon Hendriks and Martial Solal - have been one of the senior performers.
Wright's membership of the group, founded in 1934, spans 56 years and his last London gig was the Palladium in the 50s. But his energy was still palpable from the back of the Royal Festival Hall.
The Quartet, four dapper dudes in DJs began the concert singing a capella with butter smooth voices. The impossibly low bass voice of Anthony Gordon, had the stirring tones of a Russian Orthodox chant. In the favourite, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, he encouraged us to join in the chorus and the warm-up effect soon spread through the audience.
The concert had been introduced by a confident Jumoke Fashola in a striking red turban who remarked that this "might not be the night when you decide to be completely British." A good proportion of the audience complied; many were on their feet by the time they sang Standing in the Need of Prayer. The voices of Frank Davis (1st tenor) and Paul Brembly (baritone) were also highlighted but Clyde Wright finished their set; he sang his own prayer, Only Believe, and asked us to concentrate on someone or something who needed healing whilst he sang it. It was an open display of faith that may have discomfited the "completely British" but, judging by the rapturous applause, certainly engaged the majority.
After the interval, with the audience warmed through, the Harlem Gospel Choir was assured of a fine welcome. The lighting ramped up X-Factor-style, but my expectations of a huge chorus were confounded when just nine people appeared; four men and five women. Despite this they exploded on to the stage belting out "God you are good and your mercy endureth forever."
Personally, I found the sound rather over-amplified, as if to make up for the small numbers. In fact, one of the most powerful moments for me was when they all stepped forward from their microphones and communicated with plain voice.
A choir member explained this was the launch of their Songs of Praise tour, ahead of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the choir's founding in January 1986. They tour extensively raising money for children's charities and sing in three separate groups; another arm was presently in Prague. Our contingent had flown in the night before, were back to the US the next day and on to Russia within the week. No wonder they need supernatural energy.
Certainly a gospel spirit conveyed itself in a great version of Amazing Grace with a pure solo by Daria and a bluesy chorus. I really enjoyed the pleasure of the audience; we were soon on our feet waving arms Pentecostal-fashion to Holy,Holy,Holy.
Our presenter had said that "the swing and groove of jazz" was integrated in these gospel performances. My feeling was more that these performances took jazz back to its roots - but who cares anyway when the music can take you over so completely?!