Review: Jacqui Dankworth at Cadogan Hall (Part of the Diva Series)

Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

Jacqui Dankworth and the Cadogan Swing Orchestra
(16th April at Cadogan Hall. Review by Frank Griffith)


Vocalist, Jacqui Dankworth kicked off the Cadogan Hall “Diva Series” on 16 April with a splendid performance of an eclectic mix of material canvassing a broad range of themes from both film and the stage. A “spingly spangly evening” as she described it and no audience member left the place unspispangled, that’s for sure. The nearly capacity crowd clearly got this innovative series off to a flying start as upcoming divas like Clare Teal, Stacey Kent and Claire Martin await future slots in the coming three months. Her band, The Cadogan Swing Orchestra, consisted of eight strings, three brass, three woodwinds and a four rhythm team of bass, guitar, piano and drums. As there was no written programme provided some titles and composer information was lacking a bit but Ms Dankworth’s assiduous introducing of the band members put paid to that omission to a great extent. It would have been good to have name checked the concertmaster as well as the fine crew of string players under him. The ensemble was ably conducted (and cheered on) by Mike Dixon, playing a key role in delivering the innovative arrangements penned by pianist, Charlie Wood, who also happens to be Jacqui’s husband. And what arrangements they were displaying his inventiveness with orchestral colours giving these tried and tested themes a modernistic touch.

The repertoire ran the gamut from the classic standards of George Gershwin (Lady Be Good, I Loves You Porgy) to 1960s film themes (Leslie Bricusse’s Pure Imagination and Michel Legrand’s The Windmills of My Mind) to 1970s soul (Donny Hathaways’ Someday We’ll All Be Free) and what might be described as “Cinekitsch” meaning songs largely associated with films that have yet to become fully recognised outside of that genre. Examples of this included Nina Rota’s Godfather Theme, Speak Softly Love and a rather glibly titled Venician jaunty lope ditty, Fellini’s Waltz. In addition, a few pop songs found their way in like Sam Cooke’s You Send Me, Marvin Hamlisch’s What I Did For Love and On My Own from Les Misérables.

Ms Dankworth’s versatility covering so many genres was evident as was her committed aim in delivering the lyric. This is made even more remarkable by her maintaining a consistent and distinctive vocal quality throughout, marked with a smooth and honeyed ambience in a mezzo alto range that is easy on the ear yet capable of emitting the odd growl or soul-tinged cry, when required. Equally delightful were her eloquent announcements in a measured and modulated speaking voice that betrayed her previous career on the boards, boasting time with the Royal Shakespeare Company among others.

The solo voices of the band were featured often albeit in brief cameo settings. Memorable amongst these was tenor saxophonist, Graeme Blevins’ obligatto and 16 bar solo on Nature Boy displaying his fleet and deft technique outlining serpentine melodies with a crystalline tone. Understated grace at its best. The doubling, double bassist, Geoff Gascoigne (he handled the Fender too) shone handsomely on Ellington’s Solitude in an intimate duet with Jacqui. His broad tone and rounded and jaunty melodies brought back memories of Ray Brown accompanying the Divine Diva herself, Sarah Vaughan. Trombonist and longtime John Dankworth/Cleo Laine constituent, Mark Nightingale, fully lived up to his name on A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square with his birdlike whistlings atop of a nest of mithering strings providing a somewhat tangled but refreshingly modern treatment of this classic song.

A stunning night of song offering slightly challenging but new settings of largely well known material. All handled deftly by seasoned and distinctive players. Be sure to look out for the May, June and July offerings in the Diva Series which hopefully will become an annual event.

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