(Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall Late Night Jazz, February 3rd 2011, review by Jeanie Barton)
We circumnavigated the blustery exterior of The Royal Albert Hall and eventually found the right door for the Late Night Jazz show (number 8!) Once in, we were escorted into the sumptuous yet spacious Elgar Room, furnished in rich red and burgundy - it felt almost as cosy as my bedroom. The walls are adorned with large canvas prints of iconic performers, some if not all must have played in the main hall; Ray Charles, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone and Duke Ellington to name but a few – there is a heavy nod to the jazz giants as various artists are booked to play from 10pm every Thursday evening, as well as Claire Martin with Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.
Some background bossa nova helped warm us up as did a bottle of Chilean Shiraz and a large portion of Nachos. Although the tables are laid with cloths, menus and tea lights (giving the room a restaurant feel) and despite the rather large number of bar staff it seems they have chosen not to deploy table service.
The Sue Richardson Trio took to the stage; Sue on trumpet and flugelhorn along with Andy Drudy on guitar and Neal Richardson on Elton John’s red grand piano (on loan from Markson Pianos) which actually looked and sounded very classy. Sue has natural warmth; it was no surprise when she mentioned that she started off in nursing, being with her would make you feel better. She revealed it was actually during a performance in the RAH at the BBC Proms that she decided to change direction and make music her career.
They opened the evening with a couple of lively swing standards, Stella by Starlight made an energetic transition into double time prompted by Sue’s punchy trumpet break following the first chorus. It felt a little as though Andy and Neal were jostling for position within the changes of these faster numbers, but they both displayed a great ear for the whole, particularly within the more closely scored numbers like I Get a Kick Out of You, which featured a stunning bebop style line that the trio played in unison.
We were here to celebrate in part the impending release of Sue’s third album Fanfare, which hits the shops on Monday. This CD includes a track entitled Eclipse, named after her custom-made, gold trumpet which has little flowers adorning it – she explained that the number is loosely based on a riff that arose from the chords of Fly Me To The Moon. From a slow Latin groove emerged a truly emotive melody written and executed with delightful sensitivity by Sue on her flugelhorn. Neal sat back for a couple of chorus’ leaving Andy to provide the subtle bossa pulse accompaniment, Neal then gradually added some octave features in the upper register and other wistful additions that took the audience deeper into the melancholy sentiment of the piece – Sue was visibly moved by the end and so were we all.
Not only is Sue a fine instrumentalist, she also sings and performed several new compositions with lyrics by another lady bizarrely called Susan Richardson who is a poet and Annette Keen who is a journalist. I particularly liked the story of Last Goodbye, depicting the memories aroused when you leave a home for the last time.
Sue is now preparing a show about Chet Baker who is predictably one of her musical heroes; however I doubt she will lose sight of her own compositions. I felt that the thoughtful gentle nature of Eclipse might just represent a move towards a signature sound; it would make an excellent soundtrack and really helped bring the historic setting to life - who knows, she may yet move away from jazz to walk in the path of the late great John Barry.
The Royal Albert Hall Late Night Jazz programme is supported by JazzFM.
Claire Martin and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett are appearing from 20th-23rd February