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…
A Little Jazz Bird
Time After Time
How Long Has This Been Going On?
Love Is Here To Stay
The Man I Love
A Foggy Day
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