Review: Sheila Jordan at the Bulls Head. LJF



Sheila Jordan
(The Bull’s Head in Barnes, November 15th 2012. LJF. Review by Andrew Cartmel)


When Dan Fleming, the renowned guvnor of the Bulls Head, is running the door in person, you know it's a special gig. Tonight that special something is legendary singer Sheila Jordan, appearing under the auspices of the London Jazz Festival, supported with great spirit and sympathy by pianist Brian Kellock’s trio with Kenny Ellis on bass and Stu Richie on drums.

Sheila Jordan is an engaging figure in bohemian garb (black beret present and correct) who immediately launches into Everybody Has the Blues — but with her own new lyrics: “It took me over two hours to get to you/From another part of London.” Well, we can all sympathise with that. Having got this off her chest, Sheila segues into Oscar Brown Jr’s Humdrum Blues, a mainstay of her repertoire which features some beautiful cymbal work from Stu Richie.

Smiling at the well deserved torrent of applause that follows this number, the singer announced the next one. “This is My Fair Lady, but it’s not Julie Andrews.” And then she began a swinging, touching rendition of Wouldn’t it Be Loverly, which demonstrated her impressive, meticulous use of time. Sheila Jordan lingered on the syllables of this standard, delivering each carefully judged word and then breaking into scat.

And the trio was behind her all the way, Brian Kellock rocking at the piano, Stu Richie providing tight, plosive drumming and Kenny Ellis slapping and swinging on the bass. At the end of the number Sheila Jordan sang, “Can I have a glass of water, please?” and someone rushed out to the pub to get her one. All Or Nothing At All was ravishing from the opening chord with the band exploring the tune until that husky, soft, expressive voice came in. Brian Kellock played a nuanced, minimalist solo while Stu Richie conjured a taut, pulsing rhythm, playing the rim of the drums, with an occasional cymbal burst. Meanwhile Sheila Jordon unfurled the lyrics until they ran out — then improvised with casual brilliance.

Jimmy Webb’s song The Moon is a Harsh Mistress isn’t a jazz standard, but it may well become one before Sheila Jordan is finished with it. This began with an American Indian (sorry, Native American) introduction — a syncopated wail, ending with a small whoop. Stu Richie underpins it with exquisite soft cymbal and brush work. Sheila Jordan mentioned her own Native American blood and interjects some jokes which cause the pianist to crack up, his shoulder’s shaking with mirth as he plays.

This is a tight, affectionate unit. Sheila sits out the instrumental Cheesecake, listening to Kenny Ellis’ intense, soulful strumming on the bass. She makes the mischievous observation that these guys play remarkably well considering they had never met before tonight. A naughty joke that unwary reviewers might repeat as fact if they didn’t know Sheila Jordan has sung with exactly the same trio as far back as 2009, in Gateshead - and had played together the previous night, reviewed here). The singer returns to the microphone for her own composition Workshop Blues, a mysterioso bebop scat during which she emits sounds that range from a baby gurgling to a husky, sultry vamp’s murmur. She invites an estimable scat chorus from a young woman sitting in the front row. “How did I know you were a singer?” says Sheila Jordan with satisfaction. But nobody sings like Sheila Jordan, notably on Dat Dere, another Oscar Brown Jr lyric with music by Bobby Timmons, where she inhabits the role of the song’s quizzical kid with total conviction, Brian Kellock’s piano skipping and tripping along with her. Sheila’s Blues is of course the story of her life — or rather, her personal legend — enumerating how she was born on the same day as Mickey Mouse (November 18), how as a “skinny little teenager” she’d sneak into Detroit clubs to hear Charlie Parker, whom she was virtually stalking. “Chasing the Bird could have been written for me.”

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