|Shela Jordan in 2011. Photo Credit: OhWeh/ Creative Commons|
REVIEW: Bebop and Beyond double bill: Sheila Jordan and Peter King Quartet
(Ronnie Scott’s, 19th August 2014, first of two nights. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
Sheila Jordan is that rarity, a jazz singer who is not only revered by other vocalists, but also by dyed-in-the-wool jazz fans who can be dismissive of singers. At Ronnie Scott’s she demonstrated why.
Ian Shaw introduced Jordan and pianist Brian Kellock, and immediately Jordan pounced on Shaw’s failure to identify the other two musicians on stage. So she created a partly-sung, rhyming welcome to “Calum Gourlay on bass, with his smiling face” and “Steve Brown, the hippest drummer in town” before launching into Hum Drum Blues.
Jordan crafted lyrics about the things around her, her early days in Pennsylvania and Detroit, and her beloved cohorts from the jazz scene. Usually it worked (“Sonny-Rollins-Sonny-Rollins-Sonny-Rollins-Sonny-Rollins”....you had to be there); and when it didn’t, she improvised on the mistakes. Her vocal dexterity has diminished with the passing of the years (she doesn’t shy away from saying that she is now 85¾), but her scatting on If I Should Lose You was as wonderfully daring as ever. Jordan’s joie de vivre was communicated with the equanimity of someone who has seen and done everything, yet it came with a delightful openness to novelty and just a smattering of vulnerability.
There were too many highlights to relate in detail. Peace was performed for its recently-departed composer, Horace Silver. “I gave him his first piano when he moved to New York City”. The Crossing - written after Jordan recovered from serious problems with alcohol and drugs - told a story of healing and redemption, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was witnessed in silence by a crowd that was completely under her spell.
The child-mimicking Dat Dere - delivered with astonishingly accurate enunciation and intonation - was dedicated to the great Peter Ind, who was in the club. Ian Shaw was called to the bandstand for Workshop Blues, during which the audience was invited to sing along (it was very nicely done, too).
Jordan is adored not just for her longevity and first-hand connection to Charlie Parker. Her elegance, sass, wit, steely resilience and – above all – her fierce love of music and its irreplaceable practitioners pierced the hearts of everyone in the room.
Prior to the American’s appearance, another legend was on stage. Although he is Jordan’s junior by more than a decade, saxophonist Peter King is her British counterpart in many ways: an intelligent, urbane stylist who is central to his country’s jazz history, and similarly unbowed by personal adversity.
King delivered a fine set that ranged from a turbulent Inner Space to an almost-unaccompanied Lush Life. His delivery may have been less forceful than it used to be, but its impact was as powerful as ever.
The long suite/medley The World of Trane was introduced by the rich bass of Geoff Gascoyne. The Coltrane-inspired melody was followed by a magnificent feature for pianist Gareth Williams that included “Naima”, “Giant Steps” and “After the Rain”, then the quartet returned for “My Favourite Things”. Drummer Mark Fletcher was right on the money throughout, and contributed an assertive and logical solo to the concluding, simmering Joshua.
One might have wished that King and Jordan could have shared the stage for some playful bebop, but it probably wouldn’t have been as satisfying as hearing them work their socks off with their respective bands. It was certainly a night to remember.