REVIEW: Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll at Pizza Express Dean Street

Liane Carroll and Ian Shaw
Phone photo credit: Tessa Heine

Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll 
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 21 January 2019. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

I attended this gig, at least in part, for what the old song calls "sentimental reasons." In January 2009, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I wrote and published a preview of the Ian Shaw week at Pizza Express in Dean Street, drawing attention in particular to the evening when Liane Carroll would be Ian's guest. It was the very first article on what was then londonjazz.blogspot.com. It remained a theme: a couple of years later, Jamie Cullum did an interview for us anticipating a performance with both Liane and Ian in Margate. And now, ten years and nearly 8,600 articles later, and having, in the words of the same song, "believe me," given it (LJN) "my heart," it just felt right to review this year's version of that gig.

The evening did indeed feel like a celebration. One of the joys of a performance from this pair of singer-pianists is that they are capable of communicating with an audience on so many levels. It really is some show. During the course of the evening, we were carefully led through all kinds of humour, levity, and jokes; but also seriousness, wonderful stories, and astonishing musicianship. And, perhaps most importantly, the show was a succession of good songs without a single weak link.

I had somehow never heard Ian Shaw lovingly craft all those Hispanic accents and cathtilian lithps of Sondheim's The Boy from... before the glorious Welsh pay-off; it's a natural, obvious fit for him. And then the audience was totally drawn in, and gave him a complete pindrop silence for Rainbow Sleeves. Of Liane Carroll's solo numbers, the poise and balance and natural flow of Hoagy Carmichael's Memphis in June stay in the mind.

And they are both wonderful storytellers. In the chat between the songs they recalled both the glitzier and the shonkier settings in which they have plied their craft in the past.

The two are just at ease and as complete when they combine to form a duo, and the changeovers and dramaturgy of the sets were flawless. One musical feat could not fail to impress: they did two full choruses of unaccompanied wild and wacky scat in duet, and yet at the end of it, at the "landing" moment when the piano re-enters – there was never a doubt they would be, but having heard other people get it wrong I can't take it for granted! – they were both, still, flawlessly in tune.

And as for the momentum and the joy of the virtuoso, devil-may-care, double-tune superimposition of Pennies from Heaven and I Can't Give You Anything But Love... you had to be there. And even though I did allow myself the occasional decennial (or should that be decent) reverie... these are performers who NEVER disappoint, and I'm glad I was.


Ian Shaw & Friends continues each evening at Pizza Express until 27 January, with guests Gwyneth Herbert, Krystle Warren, Jo Caulfield, Earl Okin, Iain Ballamy, Jamie Safir, Tom Smith’s Queertet, Guy Barker, Barry Green, Mick Hutton, Dave Ohm, Sara Dowling and Claire Martin.

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