BLINQ - Natalie Williams Liane Carroll, Brendan Reilly (vocals) Ian Shaw (vocals and piano), Gwilym Simcock ( piano and melodica) (Ronnie Scott's, August 12th 2011, part of Britjazz Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
No ifs, no buts about this one. The debut of vocal supergroup BLINQ, on the glorious 12th goes straight up there as one of my gigs of the year.
There was lots of happy onstage banter between the pairs of friends. The first thought which the group shared with the audience was that this project putting, these four singers together, was not without risk: "we all drink too much." A thought later echoed in the poignant lyrics to Ian Shaw's "Let's Stay 42, sung as a duet with Liane Carroll.
We cover our secrets with a drink and a smile. [..] /A whisky in your cup, a vodka in mine. /We won't wake the house up, we'll talk until nine
But if there was banter, there was also a infectious atmosphere of fellowship, mutual encouragement and fun. Yes, the singers were showing off mercilessly, their exuberant scat contests witnessed salchows, lutzes, axels, pikes, twists and tucks, but they were also leading the appreciation and the cheering, for each other, from onstage.
And there was also musicality. Heaps of it. BLINQ might be billed a vocal quartet, but forget the traditional SATB. All four singers have astonishing ranges. All lead or blend at will. And for a first performnce, the polish, the ensemble, the dash and panache of the whole enterprise were stunning.
Highlights? Several. The Tom Cawley/Natalie Williams composition Good Old Days - asking the question what life can have been like before we all had mobile phones implanted - might well be the song to put this group definitively in front of a larger audience (Jools?), Gwilym Simcock's arrangement of Pastorius' Liberty City was a first take wonder of virtuosity.
But the quieter moments counted too. Brendan Reilly's song Little Black Raincloud is a gem. And then there is Gwilym Simcock. Or, in the words of the Sun "Gwil done, son." As accompanist, finding the right colours and textures, the right seas for the good ship BLINQ to travel over, he was remarkable throughout. The fourth of the segued ballad medley featured Ian Shaw in My Foolish Heart. The ending was a moment for pure goosebumps, reminiscent of Bill Evans accompanying Tony Bennett. Shaw was disappearing into the shadows towards 49 Frith Street, taking the falsetto into high, ethereal territory. But my ear was caught by the sotto voce piano chords and wanderings which accompanied that ascent. Placed to perfection.
Support were Ayanna Witter Johnson's Quartet. A magical set, producing the quietest Friday night first set audience ever, according to Ronnie's CEO Simon Cooke. But that's a separate review, for next week. As for BLINQ, when LondonJazz newsletter subscribers like the programmers of festivals in Cologne, Hamburg and Montreux read this, they should be booking this group.
And yeah, we're all in this together innit. If Boris and Dave are concerned (as they bloody well should be after a week like we've just had) that Britain should be projected at its most joyous, they need look no further than BLINQ. Something very special started tonight.