Review: Closing Night of 2013 Guildhall School Jazz Festival

Ian Shaw, Dermott McNeill, Miguel Gorodi, Simon Whiting (front),
Guildhall Jazz Singers (back row)


Ian Shaw with the Guildhall Jazz Singers and Ensemble
(Guildhall School of Music, 28th March 2013. Final Night of 2013 Guildhall School Jazz Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney.)

Speakers before this final concert of the 'Guildhall School Jazz Festival & Improvisation Fringe 2013' alluded to the range and breadth of styles of jazz which this sixth annual festival had encompassed during its six days, a theme also developed in Martin Hathaway's preview written for us. The buzz which I picked up during conversations about the festival prior to this closing night had concerned some very contrasting events: it was about Iain Ballamy's work with the students, and also about the nonet compositions of Tom Challenger, and the inspiration of Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts.

This final night focused on something of a Guildhall speciality, the vocal ensemble, where pianist/ arranger Malcolm Edmonstone has continued and developed the popular work of his own one-time teacher Pete Churchill, tonight with special guest Ian Shaw. Nobody even bothered to mention the word premiere, but it looked like possibly as much as half of the programme (I'm guessing?) consisted of newly-minted arrangements.

The most powerful sense I had throughout the evening was of the strength and infectiousness and verve of the pulse of the music, that beat in the room. It's something you have to feel rather than to  analyze. Directly and by inference, all your senses are telling you it's there. Ian Shaw was thriving on it, manifestly enjoying it. You could see it in the enthusiastic, fearless eyes of all twelve vocalists pinned on their music director, knowing to watch for cues, but also in rapt concentration.  That special connection between Edmonstone and the students is a real phenomenon.

But that beat - I know, I go on a bit..... In a breakneck tempo tune like Lane/Loesser's The Lady's in Love with You, you could almost touch it through the powerful second-beat rimshots of Simon Whiting, one of the two great drummers.  In Donald Fagen's Ruby Baby, the keenly flared nostrils of fine bassist Dermot McNeill who had just switched to electric bass were telling you could also breathe it in. It's what's connecting the players in their common endeavour. Watching the tapping feet and swaying torsos in the audience, it was clearly enlivening them too.  The whole room was just living that pulse.

There were also slower numbers in a thoroughly engaging single set. Joni Mitchell's A Case of You had a deliciously slow pulse, and moved naturally to all the singers paring the volume progressively down to an inspiring, pin-drop quiet ending. The long phrases My Foolish Heart from Shaw had wonderful shape and elegance.

And there was humour too. Ian Shaw's new, as yet title-less (?) Sondheim-inspired song about the abbreviations stored on a teenager's mobile phone is hilarious, and the Julian Clary-inspired She's Loaded has more double-entendres than any listener could possibly pick up in one hearing, and was constantly goaded and prodded by superbly conceived and delivered sassy, back-atcha choral responses in a brilliant arrangement.    

The two Donald Fagen numbers were highlights:  Ruby Baby just stays in the mind (try the original on Youtube) , and I'm Not the Same Without You was a beautiful closer to a very fine evening indeed.

At some time between now and the start of Guildhall's seventh festival next March, the secret of how good it is needs to get out.

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