REVIEW: Kokomo at the Jazz Cafe

Kokomo at the Jazz Cafe, baseball-capped vocalist, Frank Collins, to the fore
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved © 2018

Kokomo
(Jazz Cafe, 24 October 2018. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Kokomo were on fire down at the Jazz Cafe for a rip-roaringly funky midweek gig. They got right down into the groove as only they can do – and some! In true Kokomo style the soul-funk barometer was reading very high, with a flexible personnel always rooted in the core of original members who, if anything, have grown in stature since their early days.

The sparking, chunky rhythm section of percussionist Jody Linscott and bassist Jennifer Maidman, underpinned by Tony O'Malley's chippy keyboard work, was given serious extra traction by the awesome drumming of Ralph Salmins who, with eye-watering jazz and rock credentials, not to mention engineering of the massed drum ensemble at the 2012 Olympics, helped bring out the best in the full ten-piece. "Ralph Salmins could propel an ocean liner,"  was the reaction of one of LJN's editors when I told him who had been in the drum seat. He certainly could – right from the first, supercharged bass drum beats, he brought something special to the mix and things took off with a heftily accelerated drive. This was Kokomo firing on all cylinders with a rhythmic underbelly to cry for! Classy jazz guitarist Nigel Price, depping perfectly for Jim Mullen, embraced that brew of rhythm and melody which shapes the Kokomo sound, sharing the honours with Neil Hubbard, whose deft soloing, with each note picked with such care that millisecond in advance, never fails to elicit admiration.

Saxophonist Tom Richards, who brought a wealth of experience to bear from playing with the likes of Jamie Cullum, Kylie, Robbie Williams and the Heritage and Metropole Orchestras as well as in Proms projects, took on board Mel Collins’ groundwork with his tightly crafted phrasing, blending seamlessly.

Despite protestations of a sore throat from the irrepressible Frank Collins, he and his cohorts, Helena-May Harrison and Charlotte Churchman, on the eve of his birthday – yes, there was a joyous rendering of Happy Birthday (!) – delivered five-star vocals, bursting with enjoyment and precision in their how-tight-can-you-get harmonies. They just flew. Tony O'Malley, the driving force behind the 2014 reformation of the band (review), kept everything on track with gentle mentoring from the wings, taking on ad-hoc vocals and chucking in funky keyboard riffing to flesh out that signature, blue-eyed soul sound.

The repertoire took in both established classics and more recent compositions, with Helena-May Harrison paying homage to one of Kokomo's original vocal trio, Dyan Birch, with a heartfelt rendering of Forever. From the instrumental Tee Time to Bobby Womack's I Can Understand It, immediately identifiable from O'Malley's chord even before the band kicked in, they showed how fresh these songs remain. The selection worked to a tee – there were no second bests on this set list; it had been finely honed to allow this buzzing incarnation of Kokomo to push themselves out beyond the conventions of the genre and gel as a powerful, inventive unit, and as the evening played out they just got better and better. Even my ears were singing as I left the venue!

BAND

Tony O'Malley (keyboards/vocals)
Frank Collins (vocals)
Charlotte Churchman (vocals)
Helena-May Harrison (vocals)
Neil Hubbard (guitar)
Nigel Price (guitar)
Tom Richards (sax)
Jody Linscott (congas)
Ralph Salmins (drums)
Jennifer Maidman (bass)

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