REVIEW: Tina May - Divas at Harrow Arts Centre

Tina May. Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Tina May - Divas
(Harrow Arts Centre, Hatch End, Middlesex. 27th March 2015. Review by Peter Vacher)

Threatened with closure due to cut-backs and now given a one-year reprieve, Harrow Arts Centre has responded with a vigorous yet eclectic programme of events, including a strong commitment to contemporary jazz. Courtney Pine and Jim Hart’s Cloudmakers are due soon; US trumpeter Andre Canniere and Zoe Rahman were there recently. This time it was songstress Tina May’s turn, with the Victorian splendour of the Elliott Hall transformed into a funky cabaret, well, almost, the audience seated at large round tables, relaxed and expectant, drinks at hand.

Tina is always a cheerful stage presence, this crowd soon warming to her distinctive yet engaging way with a song, her band focussed and perfect. And what a band she and her MD, saxophonist Frank Griffith, had assembled, what with John Pearce, piano, bassist Dave Green, Mike Outram, guitar, and drummer Winston Clifford, truly a peerless combination up for every musical twist and turn.

Looking to reference her recent releases on Hep, Tina introduced songs associated with such ‘Divas’ as Edith Piaf, Lotte Lenya, Carmen McRae and Peggy Lee, each piece like a miniature drama, the narratives sometimes carried through in French, her vocal line often unpredictable  yet unerring. Just to hear her essay Hoagy Carmichael’s Baltimore Oriole as a duet with Pearce was to watch an exercise in vocal bravery, Tina swooping onto each note and stretching the beat, as Pearce shadowed her every move, like an eager outside waiting for a pass. Elsewhere it was Outram who caught the ear, soloing attentively yet adventurously too, Clifford’s drum accents crisp and clear with Green’s bounding beat as valuable as ever. And that’s not to overlook Griffith’s strong tenor, this showcased on an impromptu instrumental version of Perdido that swung very hard, this almost upstaged by Tina’s readings of Let’s Get Lost and that hip anthem A Sunday Kind of Love.

As ever, it was this singer’s stylistic derring-do that impressed, the easy road eschewed, her honeyed sound and desire to improvise taking each song well away from anything merely routine. So a good night for jazz and the HAC itself, with Griffith imploring the audience to continue supporting the jazz programme. And so they should.

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