|Zara McFarlane, Nicola Conte|
(Brooklyn Bowl, O2, Greenwich, 24 September 2105. Review by Peter Jones.)
The master of retro groove and Summery feel-food vibes, Nicola Conte was some way out of his natural element in this enormous, echoing, barn-like pub-cum-bowling alley. His music may be warm and intimate; the venue is anything but. He has worked with many different vocalists, from José James to Kimberley Sanders, so it was fortunate that he had one with him on this occasion able to project her voice and personality sufficiently to overcome any surrounding distractions, namely the sublime Zara MacFarlane.
The sharp-suited band looked understandably grim as they hit the stage, but began to relax and smile as they realized that the relatively small audience appreciated what they were about.
Apart from the traditional Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, the material seemed new. I’m guessing at the titles, not having been supplied with them, but there was the familiar mixture of samba (We Get Our Love From The Sun), slow funk (Revelation) and bossa nova (It’s Quiet). Annoyingly, Searching For Peace, a gentle, meditative tune, didn’t find it: the music was marred by the clatter of bowling balls and roars of triumph on one side, and loud conversation from the bar on the other.
But none of this deterred Francesco Lento (trumpet) or Logan Richardson (alto saxophone) as they supplied a fertile stream of solos to complement the rhythm section’s solid grooves. Later in the gig there were also solo contributions from Pietro Lussu (electric piano), Luca Alemanno (double bass) and Marco Valeri (drums), who traded fours on Black Spirit. Goddess Of The Sea featured a brief but magnificent, Fitzgeraldesque scat from MacFarlane. As is his custom, Conte himself (guitar) modestly refrained from soloing.
‘They want to close, but we’re going to do one more anyway’, he said, as they returned to the stage for their encore. By now the bowling fans had gone home, allowing the band to play It’s Only Love unmolested by noise, with more wonderful swapping of solos between MacFarlane and Lento.