CD REVIEW: Ian Shaw - The Theory of Joy

Ian Shaw - The Theory of Joy
(Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi 55001. CD review by Mark McKergow)

This CD finds Ian Shaw not sitting in his apparently natural habitat at a piano, but having replaced his own accompaniment with an excellent trio. There is no doubt that Shaw is a good pianist, but this format seems to free him upto really focus on his vocal performance - which he does with accuracy and aplomb.

The 12 tracks on the CD version show an excellent mix of material from Bart to Bowie, plus three Shaw originals. The opening Small Day Tomorrow (a useful concept for the jazz enthusiast, staying up late as you only have a small day tomorrow) quickly opens up to allow Barry Green to sparkle on piano. Shaw's voice seems to have something of the light touch and agility of Joni Mitchell about it, and this becomes even more clear on the Canadian artist's own In France They Kiss On Main Street. The section in which Shaw sings over Mick Hutton's round-sounding bass and Dave Ohm's tight-yet-dynamic brushes is a particular delight.

The Bowie song is Where Are We Now, from 2013's The Next Day album. This is a wistful song, looking back with a little regret, and Shaw turns in an impassioned performance. The album was recorded in summer 2015 before the shock recent news of Bowie's death, and the number makes a very fitting tribute. Mick Hutton must surely produce the most sonorous double bass tone in London, and he uses it to great effect here and throughout the album. This reflective mood carries on into Legrand/Bergman/Bergman's How Do You Keep The Music Playing, a song of love an uncertainty looking into a long-term relationship which Shaw renders beautifully -tears in this listener's eyes at any rate.

The three original songs come grouped together towards the end of the album. My Brother, about Shaw's brother Gareth who died before Ian was born, is catchy and meaningful. It's been rightly receiving radio plays - check out the video link below, which ties it in to Ian's work with refugees in Calais. All This And Betty Too is a jazz-filled romp with Shaw remembering listening to Betty Carter in Ronnie Scott's with Claire Martin, a long-term friend who also produced this album. A trio reworking of Somewhere Towards Love (chosen in its solo version as a Desert Island Disc by both Molly Parkin and Julian Clary) sees the song moving with a little more urgency, and it's great to get another way to hear it. As if to stress Shaw's versatility, we move from a pointed You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two (sung with social comment in mind, surely) to a closing If You Go Away/Ne Me Quitte Pas, in Brel-ish style over Green's solo accompaniment.

This collection has great variety, yet is defined at its core by four top-class musicians on their own terms. If, like me, you have enjoyed Ian Shaw's live performances but never yet taken the plunge with an album, this is a wonderful place to start. It's also available on double vinyl with three bonus tracks including Clive Gregson's Last Man Alive and Mel Tormé's Born To Be Blue. Cracking.

LINKS: Video of My Brother
Brian Blain's review of the launch gig of The Theory of Joy

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