Review: Jazz Voice. Opening concert of 2011 London Jazz Festival

Norma Winstone at Jazz Voice 2011
Photo credit: Mick Destino

Jazz Voice
(Opening concert of London Jazz Festival, Barbican Hall, 11th November 2011. Review by Sofia Wilde)

Now in its fourth year, ‘Jazz Voice’ has become the London Jazz Festival’s regular opening concert, which celebrates a century of song. Internationally renowned trumpeter and composer, Guy Barker, conducted this mammoth show and had scored all nineteen arrangements for the forty-two-piece orchestra.

Silver suited Gregory Porter kicked off the show with an a cappella performance of Leslie Bricusse’s ‘Feeling Good’ and was then joined by UK jazz favourite Ian Shaw much to the crowd’s delight. It was a formidable opening.

Next up was much talked about artist, Ayanna Witter-Johnson. She entered gracefully, barefoot and performed ‘Love for Sale’, with a maturity and confidence that far surpassed her years. I can’t help but think Ayanna has officially ‘arrived’.

Ayanna
Photo credit: Mick Destino.

Norma Winstone then slowed down the pace with ‘A Timeless Place’. The lyrics (written by Winstone to the tune The Peacocks by Jimmy Rowles) were beautiful, with lines such as “Beauty’s only an illusion, here your truth is an intrusion” sung with the weight and authenticity that perhaps only an artist of Winstone’s experience could deliver. It was a moving performance. On a separate note, Norma hits the big 7-0 this year. Host Victoria Wood, points out 70 is the new 60 but looking at Norma, it’s the new 40!

Contrasting Winstone’s understated performance was a feverish rendition of ‘My Favourtie Things’ from Ian Shaw, followed by Downtown Abbey actress, Michelle Dockery, who performed ‘Sans Souci’. We were given an extra helping of Victoria Wood’s witty ad-libs – a treat(!) – whilst Lucinda Belle ’s harp was wheeled onstage. Lucinda certainly made an entrance with a show-stopping, floor sweeping dress. Accompanying herself on harp, she sang Paolo Nutini’s ‘Candy’. Then there was a mad dash from Guy Barker to join his fantastic trumpet section to perform ‘Little Jazz’, a tribute to American trumpeter Roy Eldridge.

Next – and a real highlight for me - Gregory Porter was back to perform ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square’. Porter possesses an incredibly warm and goose-bump inducing tone that prompted my guest to say; “he sounds like Christmas. If only I could wrap him up and put him under my Christmas tree."

The first half drew to a close with a soulful turn from Mary Pearce, belting out Stevie Wonder’s ‘Bad Weather’, which - judging by the shrieking response - the crowd loved. And finally, Shingai Shoniwa (of chart topping band, The Noisettes), closed the first half with a brilliant performance of Nina Simone’s ‘Love Me or Leave Me’ - powerful stuff which was delivered with plenty of drama.

The second half was just as well put together as the first, with a good balance of slow and swinging numbers. Highlights in the second half were Shingai Shoniwa’s jaw dropping performance of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, Ayanna’s performance of Billie Holiday’s poignant and still hugely powerful ‘Strange Fruit’, and Gregory Porter singing his original composition ‘1960 What?’, in which he also treated us to a bit of hip swinging - justifying that funky silver suit.

The orchestra must deservedly be awarded huge praise; this was a stellar line-up up of the UK’s top classical, jazz and session musicians. Guy Barker commented that there wasn’t much time to rehearse so he needed to employ musicians who could read the score in one run and feel it in the second. Fast thinking musicians need only apply. Sonia Slany led the strings in style, there was a tight brass and wind section and Phil Donkin (bass), Dave Newton (piano), Mitch Dalton (guitar) and Ralph Salmins (drums) made up the driving rhythm section.

This was a first class production by Serious. The diversity of acts was testament to the fact that pretty much ‘anything goes’ in jazz today and meant that there really was something for everyone.

Guy Barker’s accomplishment cannot be overstated, he is a serious force to be reckoned with, and what he has put together is all together mind-blowing stuff.

My companion too did indeed manage to wrap up Gregory Porter for Christmas - by buying a copy of his new album ‘Water’.

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