REVIEW: Jazz Voice at the Barbican (2015 EFG LJF)

Jazz Voice at the Barbican 2015
Photo credit: Emile Holba

Jazz Voice - Opening gala of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival)
Barbican Hall, 13th November 2015. Review by Peter Vacher)

Jazz Voice kicks off each EFG London Jazz Festival in turn, giving a chance for sponsors and assorted big-wigs to mingle and chat before settling into the Barbican’s capacious auditorium to see what Guy Barker and his massed players have assembled for us. As in previous years, and there have been eight versions of this vocal beauty parade, there was a hook – any anniversary from ‘a century of song', found to end in the figure‘5’, this to coincide with 2015. Geddit?

Contrived perhaps but good enough, you could say, to allow Joe Stilgoe to revisit Billy Strayhorn’s timeless Lush Life in a fine reading, cushioned by Barker’s haunting writing for strings and let loose the magisterial Elaine Delmar on Tea For Two, her cello-like lower register stretching the line as a great jazz singer should. These two then returned at the concert’s end to pay tribute to one Francis Albert Sinatra, powered by Barker’s mighty ensemble, Stilgoe assured with I’ve Got You Under My Skin marked by a blistering trombone solo from Alistair White, and Elaine resplendent with Something’s Gotta Give, the massed vocalists then giving out on a grandstand finish with New York, New York, Stilgoe at the helm and ending in triumph.

Along the way came a bevy of soul and pop singers, none with a jazz sensibility but each given a spot in either half, their arrivals on stage lauded by this enthusiastic audience. They loved the young American Jarrod Lawson, soulful in his striped T-Shirt and stentorian in tone, and the winsome Foxes whose connection with the anniversary theme was simply that her affecting If You Leave Me Now is a 2015 release, Chris Higginbotham’s heavy back-beat and Paul Clarvis’s tambourine to the fore. Others came and went, with Liv Warfield, a sometime Prince associate, emoting heavily on River Deep and Joni Mitchell’s Black Crow with suitably eerie guitar accompaniment and Nicki Wells working with pianist/guitarist Nitin Sawhney on Billie Holidays God Bless the Child. If some singers seemed less than comfortable on material chosen for them, notably Becca Stevens on Prelude to a Kiss, then so be it. That’s what you get when you try to match selected performers to anniversary specifics.

Becca Stevens. Jazz Voice at the Barbican 2015
Photo credit: Emile Holba

For my part, it was great to pick out soloists like trumpeter Martin Shaw, pianist Dave Newton and Alan Barnes, at his best on clarinet on God Bless The Child and to enjoy the big band at full tilt on Tommy Dorsey’s Well, Git It, spotlighting Nathan Bray’s exceptional high-note trumpet. Why this number? Well, Dorsey was, born, of course, in 1905! Barker also excelled in a lengthy piece dedicated to the iconic New York jazz club, the Village Vanguard, eighty years in operation and counting, his medley celebrating past triumphs. Happy to add a final further word of praise again for Barker for assembling this massive all-star orchestra, strings combined with big band, conducting them with panache but above all for his industry and enterprise in creating the backdrop to this musical extravaganza. Did it all meet the ‘vocal jazz’ criterion? Well, it depends on what you mean by…

Review Jazz Voice 2014
Review Jazz Voice 2013
Review Jazz Voice 2012
Review Jazz Voice 2011
Review Jazz Voice 2010

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