There was a poignant start to Monday’s jazz festival concert at The Hub, when the Norwegian pianist Morten Gunnar Larsen (right), referring to events in his and and singer Stale Ytterli’s country on Friday, announced the specially chosen opening song. Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars, a beautiful ballad with moving lyrics (“Sometimes it seems that God’s gone away”) was perfectly judged- and the perfect introduction to this class double-act which looked, in formal attire and shiny shoes, as if it had stumbled into the wrong festival.
It was a most unusual jazz festival gig in more ways than the merely sartorial. Although many of the songs Ytterli and Larsen performed were written by composers who were influenced by the jazz scene (Weill, Gershwin), or were part of it (Eubie Blake, Lucky Roberts), or whose music became standards (Kern, Porter), most of the concert was upmarket cabaret. Ytterli has a beautiful voice, and his performances of Blake’s Memories of You, and Weill’s Mack the Knife and Bilbao Song were wonderful – though his theatricality, combined with German vocals, on an OTT song by Frederick Hollander, did recall the singing Hitler audition scene from The Producers.
In most cases,Ytterli sang the songs in their original language, following a brief translation, and although it brought authencity to the performance, the language barrier proved a bit of a distraction. Larsen’s delicate, loose-fingered pianistics, however, needed no translation and were a delight – especially on Je ne t’aime pas which compressed a history of jazz piano into one solo.
(First published in The Scotsman, Wednesday July 27th)