REVIEW: Jazzmeia Horn at Ronnie Scott's (2018 EFG LJF)

Jazzmeia Horn in 2016 at the WDR3 Jazz Fest in Münster
Photo credit: Lutz Voigtländer
Jazzmeia Horn
(Ronnie Scott's. 20 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Lauren Bush)

Jazzmeia Horn has received some prestigious accolades in the past five years including winning the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition, the Thelonious Monk Vocal Jazz Competition and Downbeat’s Rising Star Female Vocalist award. Headlining at Ronnie Scott’s may now be added to her list as she did two nights as part of the London Jazz Festival.

Her set began with a quick introduction of her band, Victor Gould (piano), Barry Stephenson (bass) and Henry Conerway III (drums), and she was off into a free scat on the Betty Carter tune Please Do Something that twisted into a quick reference to Afro Blue and then again into Willow Weep for Me. The musicians all settled into the performance, putting the audience at ease and showing their expertise. Horn showed a distinct comfortability in this music, in the way she carries herself, expresses each syllable, it all matters so much. And the band respect the weight that this music holds for her.

She spent little time chatting with the audience; their presence is appreciated but not necessary for her to create. Her influences are very audible, Betty Carter being at the centre of her tone, her scat style and her song choices, next with another of her tunes, Tight. Her vocal range is wide, the whistle tones that are more common in the pop music of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston flowing through her effortlessly, but she reaches equally into the deep, low tones of her voice with an earthiness, too.

While Horn shows off her exceptional level of knowledge and skill, at times a certain level of restraint would have been appreciated, as she showed in her rendition of Jimmy Rowles' song The Peacocks, lyrics by Britain’s own beloved songstress Norma Winstone. In this song, the bass and drums stepped off the stage and it was especially nice to hear the quiet moments when she would let the lyrics do the talking and the emotion would flow through her naturally.

Gould’s accompaniment on this piece showed reflection as he listened to all the shades in Horn’s voice and his solo was a stride-like thoughtful moment. Gould also played some memorable solos on a version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On, and in the standard Sometimes I’m Happy, where Conerway also playfully traded fours with Horn, quoting Salt Peanuts after she asked “What kind of food do we like to eat?” during their respective turns. Stephenson shone with his introduction and melodic solo on I Didn’t Know What Time It Was. The guys had a solid appreciation for each other. During the finale, an improvised mantra for peace that Horn built off Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’ had Conerway singing and snapping along – a touching sign that peace, love and joy are bound to emanate from these musical beings wherever they go.

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