Monthly Archives: June 2012

Review: Tony Bennett, Glasgow, 2012

Tony Bennett, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, June 25, 2012 ****

He may have managed to do a post-prandial walkabout through the city centre yesterday afternoon without being accosted by anyone other than your reviewer, but Tony Bennett was welcomed to the Concert Hall like a long lost brother when he came onstage last night. Anticipation had been building for the opening 20 minutes of the concert, which had been taken up by his daughter Antonia, a singer with a more stagey style than her jazz-influenced father who still has a thing or two to teach her about phrasing and conveying the meaning of lyrics.

He may be in his third decade of pension-drawing but Bennett positively romped through his repertoire, dishing up one greatest hit after another in a continuous programme that comprised a staggering 26 songs. As seems often to be the case with these “senior” stars, the longer he was onstage, the more alive, animated and energetic he became. It was as if the warmth which poured forth from the audience fuelled the performance.

Accompanied by a quartet which featured guitarist Gray Sargent – whose duets with Bennett at the start of such sublime ballads as But Beautiful (the Billie Holiday version of which had been playing in Rogano while Bennett lunched) were highlights – the 85-year-old singer displayed an astonishing power and command.

Indeed, for his final encore, to convey how moved he was by the massive wave of affection from the full house, Bennett put down the microphone and, accompanied by Sargent, sang Fly Me to the Moon as he swivelled gently round, taking in every section of the audience and imploring them with his hands as he sang “Fill my heart with song and let me sing forevermore”. In other words, he brought the house down.

* First published in The Herald, Tuesday June 26, 2012

Watch What Happens

They All Laughed

Maybe This Time

I Got Rhythm

Cold, Cold Heart

Sing You Sinners

Old Friend

Steppin’ Out With My Baby

But Beautiful

The Way You Look Tonight

Just in Time

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

The Good Life

Once Upon a Time

Shadow of Your Smile

One For My Baby

I Wanna Be Around

For Once In My Life

The Best Is Yet To Come

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

My Hometown

I’m Old-Fashioned

Who Cares?

Smile

When You’re Smiling

Fly Me To the Moon

 

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CD Recommendations: June 2012

Martin Taylor & Alan Barnes: Two For the Road (Woodville Records) 

With the right combination of musicians, the duo can be THE most satisfying of jazz line-ups – and this CD is a perfect example. Martin Taylor (guitar) and Alan Barnes (clarinet) have created a beautiful, intimate, album which showcases their rapport and mutual respect and plays out like a series of conversations – some cosy chats, some playful banter and some lively debates. And you don’t have to be a fan of Taylor’s guitar monologues to get a huge kick out of his lovely, warm, lyrical playing on this CD. A joy.

Sonny Stitt: Now!/Salt and Pepper (Impulse! 2-on-1)

Two early 1960s albums from the underrated tenor and alt saxophonist Sonny Stitt appear on this CD. Now! (1963) finds him asserting himself mostly on the tenor, undoubtedly to shake off the Charlie Parker comparisons, but, with his driving, lyrical style and the Bird-like improvisations, the influence is still very evident. On Salt and Pepper (1964), accompanied by an almost identical classy trio (led by pianist Hank Jones), he goes head to head with the tenor man Paul Gonsalves with memorable results.

Harry Allen & Rossano Sportiello: Conversations – The Johnny Burke Songbook (CD Baby.Com/Indys)

An instrumental album paying tribute to a lyricist may seem a bit odd but American tenor saxophonist has a personal connection to Johnny Burke, the writer of such standards as It Could Happen to You, Pennies From Heaven and Like Someone In Love. All of these are included in this lovely CD which finds the eloquent tenor man well-matched with the elegant pianist Sportiello. Their pairing is magic on the ballads especially, and it’s a rare treat to hear some of the seldom played songs Burke co-wrote for Paramount movies as well as such “new” finds as I Wish You Needed Me.

 Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock: The Beale Street Blues (Cside) 

The fourth CD from Scotland’s swinging-est purveyors of hot, Chicago-style, jazz is another wee cracker. This time, the original quartet, headed by cornettist Mike Daly and clarinettist/saxophonist John Burgess, is joined by their regular special guest Brian Kellock on piano – and the results are superb, notably such lesser-played numbers as Shim Me Sha Wabble and That Da Da Strain. Only possible quibble? I’ll Be a Friend With Pleasure is such a pretty, poignant tune, it would be a treat to hear what Daly and Kellock could do with it at a slower speed.

Benny Carter: Four Classic Albums Plus (Avid Jazz) 

The quartet of 1950s/1960 LPs featured on this double CD showcases almost every one of jazz legend Benny Carter’s talents: as composer, arranger, alto saxophonist, tenor saxophonist and trumpeter. These LPs also find him in the top-notch company of the likes of Ben Webster, Andre Previn, Jimmy Rowles, Frank Rosolino and Barney Kessel – all of whom play on the opening album, the terrific Jazz Giant – and Earl Hines. It’s perhaps not essential Carter – but a superb snapshot of the great man in his (very long) middle period.

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Review: Leith Jazz Festival, June 16-17, 2012

Leith Jazz Festival, various venues, June 16-17, 2012 ****

Like a phoenix rising from distinctly soggy ashes, the Leith Jazz Festival was revived over the weekend after more than a decade. And even the damp weather didn’t rain on the parade of the publicans who found their establishments packed out for (at least) the daytime gigs which ranged from hard core blues to 1920s classic jazz. For those who remember the old pub trail of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, nipping from one hostelry to another, often catching the first set in one pub before zipping along the road to catch the second set in another was a lovely nostalgia trip.

All the names on the bill were local – but they included some of the best on the Edinburgh scene, from pianist Brian Kellock, who was the unofficial artistic director of the event, and whose regular Sunday session at The Shore was a focal point of the weekend for many festival-goers, to the reliably excellent Swing 2012, which specialises in laid-back, Hot Club of France-inspired jazz, and who played on Sunday evening at The Granary.

Indeed, for the jazz aficionado, Sunday was THE day to get the walking shoes on. And the place to be in the early part of the afternoon was Sofi’s Bar where the alto saxophonist Martin Kershaw – a musician you’d rarely get to hear for free – and bassist Ed Kelly held an audience spellbound as they dished up a fantastic, full concert.

Kershaw, a supremely eloquent and lyrical player, was in terrific form, and was well matched with Kelly. Among the many highlights were an exquisite reading of the Antonio Carlos Jobim heartbreaker How Insensitive (which hinted at the Stan Getz influence on Kershaw’s upper register playing), a bouncy All The Things You Are and a hard-swinging take on Charlie Parker’s Marmaduke. Horace Silver’s Song For My Father was a lovely nod to Father’s Day.

The Compass proved not to be the best venue for singer Lorna Reid and her intimate duo gig with guitarist Graeme Stephen. While Kershaw had an attentive audience, she had to contend with noisy diners who were not there to hear the music and didn’t care who knew it. Nevertheless, those who did listen were rewarded with some lovely songs served in a tasteful, elegant style by the soulful-sounding Reid and her like-minded accompanist.

A late set by the wonderful Diplomats of Jazz – an Edinburgh institution which, like Swing 2012, used to feature on the old jazz festival pub trail – was the ideal way to round off the weekend. Decked out in their dinner suits, the Diplomats may have had to contend with the football on the TV at the other end of the Constitution Bar, but they did so in style: their exuberant playing on Crying for the Carolines and Sorry was a joy to behold.

* First published in The Scotsman, Monday June 18, 2012

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Review: Martin Taylor & Alison Burns

Martin Taylor & Alison Burns, Oran Mor, Glasgow, June 15 2012 ****

Katharine Hepburn famously said of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that he gave her class and she gave him sex appeal – and something similar applies to the duo of guitarist Martin Taylor and singer Alison Burns. They each bring something quite different to the partnership and that contrast is what makes it work. While the virtuoso guitarist adds colour and finesse to the double act, his singing daughter-in-law brings a warmth to the proceedings and makes Taylor’s technically dazzling playing more accessible. (Indeed, his numerous solo numbers almost seemed to belong to a different gig.)

That was certainly very evident at their Oran Mor concert last night, part of the West End Festival. When the pair were onstage together, they dished up some lovely duets. Burns, who has gained in confidence and presence since the last time I heard her (three years ago), has a velvety voice, tinged with Julie London-esque breathiness but considerably more assured.

Like London she doesn’t mess with the melody, and instead keeps it simple, paying attention to the lyrics and meaning – though only a few of the songs last night had any real emotional depth; moving readings of Stevie Wonder’s If It’s Magic and Sasha Distel’s The Good Life being notable exceptions. Her sugary Sophisticated Lady just served as a nostalgic reminder of Annie Ross’s gutsy, heart-wrenching take on the similarly themed Lush Life on the same stage four months ago …

* First published in The Scotsman, June 16 2012. 

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The Wandering Melody

For someone who appreciates the sound of silence so much she put 11 minutes and 11 seconds of it on the last track of her new album, singer-songwriter Melody Gardot doesn’t half like to talk. But then, with three years’ of new, and subtly life-changing, experiences under her belt since we last met, she has plenty to say – all of it very eloquently and earnestly delivered, much of it very profound, and some of it only comprehensible when you listen back to it, and unravel it slowly.

Holding court in her London hotel room, which she has customised with shawls and rugs from her recent globe-trotting, the 27-year-old American whom I last saw seducing an increasingly adoring audience at the Queen’s Hall in late 2009, has morphed from New Agey femme fatale – or, as she describes herself “modern day dame” – into what appears to be Norma Desmond playing a North African queen. The long hair is hidden under a huge, square-ish, turban, the shades are pure Gloria Swanson but the red lipstick is vintage Gardot.

It’s not just her appearance which has changed; Gardot’s music has evolved into something much less readily categorisable than her previous two records which were rooted in jazz. The new CD, The Absence, was “all about blending”. Gardot explains: “It was about choosing the colours from the countries I went to, and finding a way of putting them all together. There’s so much of myself in the music, and also of these culturally influential women from around the world – women like Amalia Rodrigues, the flamenco and tango dancers, the people of the desert. So much touched me that my style just changed naturally.”

During an 18-month period of travelling – from Portugal to Morocco, via Brazil and Argentina – Gardot soaked up inspiration. The primary new influence comes from Portugal. “Lisbon was,” says Gardot, “the first place I put my bags down after that last tour”. Naturally a nomadic person (she doesn’t have one base), Gardot says she wanted to go there and “dive into the culture”. Rather than sitting somewhere else in the world listening to recordings from a culture that interested her, she was determined to get to the heart of it.

“Whatever I would take into the music if I took it from a recording would be one thing, and it wouldn’t be genuine. I realised it would be different if I actually went there, sat down, played with the musicians, lived it and understood it.”

Once she was rested after promoting and touring with her last album, Gardot immersed herself in the Fado genre of Portuguese music. She threw herself into learning to play Portuguese guitar. “I basically went to school there. It was a great study. I made myself rise in the morning with the intention of learning and performing and writing and observing things.” She was introduced to the widow of Carlos Paredes, one of the leading Portuguese guitarists of the 20th century. “He’s passed on, and his wife gave me his picks to use – with the sweat of his fingers. It was very special. I really connected to the root of what the genre of music was.”

It wasn’t just the Portuguese music that attracted Gardot to Lisbon; she had long identified with the Portuguese concept of “saudade” (I remember her talking about it in connection with her earlier albums) which has no direct translation in English but describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. It can also refer to a feeling of incompleteness and of yearning for something that might not even exist.

When asked about all the goodbyes she must have had to say during her travels, and about the theme of “goodbye” which runs through the album, Gardot admits that it was usually more a case of “a bientot” in reality as she plans to revisit the new friends she’s made, but she also harks back to the saudade idea. “I would leave a country but I’d never leave the people, so there’s constant presence and absence. My presence was there although I had a physical absence, nothing of me left. There’s still the smell of my perfume in the room, there’s still the essence of what I’ve done in the walls, there’s still the writings on the musical instruments there in the room reverberating..

“If you think about it, you give all of your heart one night on the stage to one city and then you have to get up and do it again the next day. When you get the opportunity to spend a month, two months, four months in one place, that kind of energy, constantly, all the time is very strong so the impression you leave is very deep and so was the impression the people left on me.”

From Lisbon, a city to which she pays tribute on the new album, Gardot went to Brazil. The influence of that country’s music emerged on the last record (and in my first interview with her, in 2008, when she said she was “tripping out on” the classic Frank Sinatra-Antonio Carlos Jobim recordings) – but here it’s very obvious, not least in the involvement of the acclaimed Brazilian guitarist Heitor Pereira, who served as producer and collaborator.

As in Lisbon, Gardot made herself at home with the people she met in the favelas of Rio – so much so that she has committed to creating a music education programme for the children there. “Brazil is one of the most inspiring places and that was why I refused to go down there and just take,” she explains. “How could I take from a place that already gave so much to me?”

Pushed as to how long she spent in Brazil, she replies: “I don’t know. The whole thing took a year and a half. I spent the longest time by far in Portugal but then was journeying back and forth, like a dance. In some places it wasn’t very long at all but it’s a matter of time which is irrelevant anyway. The time felt equal because I left at the moment I felt I was done. After Brazil, I realised I’d written what I needed to write and we travelled a bit more and then we were done.”

You might assume the “we” refers to a boyfriend – but Gardot is actually talking about her guitar… “I mean my guitar’s in my bed at the end of the night. I didn’t want anyone else with me. This was my own journey. I was getting calls from friends asking if they could come along but I’d put them off. I wasn’t doing a touristic thing. I was staying somewhere playing music and writing for seven or eight hours a day. That was my life. And if I woke up in the morning and wanted to move on to another place, that’s what I did.”

What seems to have struck Gardot most from the experience of writing and recording The Absence is the power of music as a means of communicating, and the way in which “the spirit of music is similar the world over.” Certainly all the disparate inspirations and styles seem to fuse together and be channelled through Gardot, who makes them all very accessible. As she says: “This record’s not me trying to be a tango singer, or a fado singer, or a samba singer or trying to be Astrud Gilberto. No, I’m myself but the songs I’ve written are really influenced by those things.”

Her journey continues, first with promotional duties across Europe, and later this year with what she describes as her favourite part of the process – touring. She bursts into laughter as she vividly recalls her Scottish date on the last tour – when a rather large and very drunk audience member heckled her so much that he was removed from the auditorium, chair and all, as she watched, bemused, from the stage.

It’s something that could have happened anywhere … If there’s one lesson that Gardot learned during her musical adventures, “from being in cultures and living amongst them, it’s that we’re all citizens of the world. There’s no difference between us, really.”

* The Absence (Decca) and its first single, Amalia, are out now.

First published in The Herald, May 26 2012.

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Review: Rose Room

Rose Room, Arlington Baths, Glasgow, Friday June 8 ***

They may have opened to members in 1870 but the Arlington Baths’ West End Festival gig last night was the first concert in its 142-year history. Anyone who inferred from the festival programme that they might be sitting round the pool watching the band perform was in for a surprise/shock as the hour-long performance actually took place in the cosy bar where the band looked set to contend with noisy weans, diners and oldies out for a Friday night pint.

From the off, however, this Quintet of the Hot Club of France inspired quartet grabbed the attention of the punters and held on to it for most of the gig. Their stock in trade is jaunty, unpretentious, feelgood, gypsy jazz and their not-so secret weapon; the element which elevates it above what it would otherwise be, is Seonaid Aitken who sings in a ladylike style that contrasts with the passion of her more reckless-sounding violin playing which is dynamic and occasionally dazzling.

Indeed, whenever the attention of the audience began to wane – unsurprisingly, given that the punters hadn’t paid for tickets and were (children aside) somewhat the merrier for the cheap bar – it was Aitken who drew it back. In a programme, and genre, dominated by fast or mid-tempo tunes, it was the ballads which stood out. Blues in My Heart was a stylishly arranged and executed example of Rose Room at its best, with lead guitarist Tom Watson serving up a particularly groovy solo and Aitken’s vocals a delight.

Ditto for the concert’s stand-out Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me on which the gentle swing of Watson’s and Tam Gallagher’s guitars plus Jimmy Moon’s bass proved the perfect setting for her dreamy voice.

Catch them in a full concert at Oran Mor on June 22.

First published in The Scotsman,  Saturday June 9

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Review: Carol Kidd & Brian Kellock

Carol Kidd Sings Gershwin with Brian Kellock, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Thursday May 31 *****

Well, well, well… Actually – superb, superb, superb would be more apt. Carol Kidd’s duo concert at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on Thursday night couldn’t have been more of a pleasant surprise. Hell, it was a sensation. I had always suspected that the Carol Kidd-Brian Kellock duo could be something wonderful – but its first outing, last year at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, was not all I’d hoped, and last week’s quartet concert in Perth – in which Kellock played – wasn’t a patch on the previous gig I had heard Kidd play (in October, with guitarist Nigel Clark).

What linked last year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival concert and last week’s Perth gig was the presence of Brian Kellock, who, it seems, brings out a childish streak in Kidd between numbers. Their horseplay had been a drawback and a distraction in Edinburgh last year – and there was more of the same in Perth. Kidd often jokes around onstage (usually the same jokes involving not being able to remember what’s happening next, not being able to see without her specs and pulling a few Jimmy Krankie faces as she tries to squint at her song sheet – and as she “accidentally” swears). Of course, only those of us who have been to every one of her gigs in recent years would be tiring of all this – it might have been funny the first time but I can’t remember that far back…

Last year in Edinburgh I was driven to write about that aspect – and also the other irksome characteristic of many a recent Kidd concert: her habit of reimagining or rewriting the lyrics. Sometimes it’s obvious that she has just momentarily forgotten them, but some of the mistakes are now clearly engrained in her mind. (As a friend of mine said after listening to her recording of Moon River, where did she get the “moon raker” line from?)

I only had 200 words to play with for my Herald review and didn’t want to waste them on the lyrics issue – especially since it didn’t bother the majority of the audience – but  I noted that not a single song emerged with its lyrics completely intact.

Kidd trampled over the carefully chosen words of such poets as Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, Sammy Cahn and E Y Harburg. To those of us who adore Skylark,  such eloquently expressed phrases as “where my heart can go a-journeying” or “faint as a will o’ the wisp, crazy as a loon” are as integral to the song as the melody- and it’s a major distraction when you hear them being changed. Not only that but sometimes the meaning of a song is compromised when the lyrics are mangled. It only takes a “you” and “I” to be used in the wrong place …

Kidd’s Perth version of Time After Time might have had all the right words – but, as Eric Morecambe said, they were not necessarily in the right order and the effect was that the meaning of the song was altered. I have to say, I feared for my enjoyment of future Kidd concerts and was in two minds about going along to the duo gig on Thursday.

But ..  in Edinburgh on Thursday, there were considerably fewer crimes against lyrics and less (sky) larking about, and that – combined with the fact that Kidd had clearly recovered from the throat problems which had been apparent to those of us who go to hear her whenever we can – made a huge difference.

And this time the duo achieved its potential. It was a thrill to witness it. From the opening song of the show, A Little Jazz Bird, it was obvious that Kidd was in better form than the previous week. It wasn’t until towards the end of the first half, however, that it really gelled – but, boy, when it did .. The duo’s take on Summertime was so powerful, so spine-tingling that it didn’t only blow the audience away; it also took the performers by surprise.

Kellock’s sparse Satie-esque accompaniment was utterly mesmerising – hypnotic, even, with its repetitive left hand rhythm and steadily increasing dramatic tension.  (It sounded so thought-through I was amazed when he later said that it had been entirely spontaneous.) It was the touchpaper for Kidd who took off with a commanding, passionate and emotionally devastating performance.  It was no wonder they decided to call half-time after it; everyone in the room  – onstage and off – was left somewhat shell-shocked. There should have been counselling available.

The second half was a series of triumphs culminating in a thrilling I Loves You Porgy, the other Porgy and Bess ballad which Kidd – who understands that “it’s a harrowing story, not a romantic ballad” – has very much made her own, and her sexy, smouldering and gutsily powerful The Man That Got Away, on which Kellock was electrifying.

All worries about her “losing it” – which I had been wondering about last week in Perth – were allayed. This performance proved that she is still light years ahead of any other female jazz singer I’ve heard singing live.

So much so that she could be forgiven for disingenuously claiming that it was in response emailed requests that she was including a number of non-Gershwin songs (coincidentally, almost all of them ones that she had performed in Perth) in this Gershwin programme…

I

A Little Jazz Bird

Time After Time

How Long Has This Been Going On?

Skylark

Love Is Here To Stay

The Man I Love

A Foggy Day

Summertime

II

Can’t Help Lovin’  That Man of Mine

I Got Plenty of Nuttin’

Come Rain or Come Shine

T’Ain’t Necessarily So

Why Did I Choose You?

I Loves You Porgy/I’s Your Woman Now

encore: The Man That Got Away

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