(EFG London Jazz Festival, opening night. Barbican Hall, 15th November 2013. Review by Peter Vacher)
Year on year, it seems, Jazz Voice challenges definitions and pushes the boundaries for what we (some of us, that is) know as vocal jazz. If this sits well with contemporary audiences, so be it. For the more seasoned observer, the question arose: where were the bona-fide jazz singers?
Hard to find them in this song contest format as each performer appeared (via a Victoria Wood introduction) to strut their stuff, bolstered by the luxuriant sounds of Guy Barker’s orchestra (string ensemble plus big band) only to be succeeded by another. Given its sheer scale – and yes, it was a flagship event, with a whooping, SRO audience – there was little room for subtlety or jazz nuance and nor was any offered in this charged atmosphere.
Thus Clare Teal opted for vocal overdrive on ‘Secret Love’ like the big band singer she is ahead of Jane Monheit’s simpering, Las Vegas lounge style version of ‘Born To be Blue’. Thereafter we moved into the realms of soul and funk, with Annabel Williams surrendering any semblance of dynamic variation on Etta James’s ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, Krystle Warren and Omar vocally strong and Eska out of her depth.
Too much emoting and not enough jazz creativity, you might say, although Vive the six-person close harmony group did provide genuine vocal artistry. Still, this audience loved it all, happy to hear these singers plugging their latest pop singles, with Barker’s orchestral fecundity one of the wonders of the age. Best moment? When Noel McKoy turned the Barbican stage into a replica of Harlem’s Apollo Theatre on ‘Livin’ for the City’. Jazz? Not on your life but fun, for sure.