REVIEW: Tony Kofi's Portrait of Cannonball with Deelee Dubé at Lauderdale House

Tony Kofi and Byron Wallen
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

Tony Kofi's Portrait of Cannonball
(Lauderdale House, Highgate. 6 December 2018. Review by Brian Blain)

Although I thought that alto giant Tony Kofi's Portrait of Cannonball was a great opener at this year's Swanage Festival in July, a few gigs down the line to polish things up plus a packed house, of all ages, in a smaller intimate space came together to create that magic bond between band and audience. It was an absolute blast, one of the most exciting gigs of the year, surely?

The structure of the show helps of course – nothing like intelligent, well-delivered words to connect, with pianist Alex Webb and Kofi himself giving short narratives on stages in Adderley's career and the wide range of great players he worked with, from Coltrane to Zawinul. Miles Davis was one, and his gift (most unusual) of Nardis inspired beautiful, restrained and melodic invention from the magnificent Byron Wallen (tpt), in complete contrast to his earlier contributions to Gigi Gryce's Minority and Cannon's own Things are Getting Better which threatened to crack the ceiling, if not actually raise the roof.

Like Wallen, Tony Kofi is a big, big player, someone who has worked in much further 'out' areas, such as the World Saxophone Quartet, alongside the late Hamiet Bluett, and that freer experience seems to have created a much more passionate voice, which even encouraged some ferocious circular breathing on, I think, Sam Jones's Del Sasser. Throughout, it was wonderful to hear these slightly free elements brought to bear on Cannonball's world of swing and melodic lines. You got the feeling that he was getting massive enjoyment from the whole thing and that this is more than just a 'project to get gigs'.

None of this would work without a really good rhythm section and Alex Webb, drummer  Alfonso Vitale – a quiet storm – and especially bassist Andy Cleyndert, the root of the grooves and the still vibing veteran of a million dates with the cream of the UK's modern mainstream players, was it, a brilliant all-round package. But for me, there was just one more thrill – an encounter with an almost unknown new talent.

Deelee Dubé, with Tony Kofi (foreground)
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

After the storm of Del Sasser, halfway through the first set, Tony introduced the band's 'special guest', Deelee Dubé, informing us that she was the first English singer to have won the International Sarah Vaughan Prize, judged by a panel of heavyweights including Christian McBride. Easing her way in to a Jobim song, Once I Loved, she slotted in perfectly with the two frontline horns, and though clearly just a tad nervous she revealed a voice of depth and range which navigated a not particularly easy tune with conviction and style.

But it was in the second set, when she went for the Nancy Wilson classic Never Will I Marry that sparks began to fly. This a song that was always previously a vehicle for the likes of Garland and Streisand until Wilson got to grips with it and showed the world what a jazz singer could do with it. At Lauderdale, Dubé was not overshadowed by anyone in this illustrious company, and by the final Work Song she was really flying, along with the whole team It was a marvellous surprise and a real lift to be in on the discovery of a brilliant new voice surrounded by jazz riches of the highest kind.

Brian Blain is a member of the programming team at Lauderdale House

LINK: Interview with Deeelee Dubé from November 2018

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