by Ian Mann
August 18, 2023
Ian Mann enjoys a very full day of music including performances by the Rachel Starritt Trio, Faith i Branko, Festival Big Band with LaVon Hardison and Dionne Bennett & Friends.
Photograph of Liz Exell, the new “hardest working drummer in Brecon” sourced from http://www.breconjazz.org
BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2023, MAIN WEEKEND
Sunday 13th August 2023
MIKE CHAPPELL TRIO with GARETH ROBERTS and SHAKIRA DAVIES,
ST. MARY’S CHURCH
Mike Chappell – piano, Steve Tarner – double bass, Robert Wheatcroft – drums
with guests Gareth Roberts – trombone, Shakira Davies - vocals
An early start (noon) for me at St. Mary’s for this free admission performance by a trio led by locally based pianist Mike Chappell and their principal guest Gareth Roberts.
I’m a long time admirer of Roberts’ playing, a fact that influenced my decision to arrive in Brecon a couple of hours before the start of the scheduled concert programme. My decision was justified by a highly enjoyable performance from the Chappell Trio and their guests which included some first rate playing from all concerned.
The programme featured Chappell’s arrangements of well known standards and the core trio plus Roberts commenced with “All The Things You Are” followed by the less well known “Emily”, a song co-written by Johnny Mandel and Johnny Mercer. The first was delivered at a moderate clip, with features for each band member. The second was a ballad with Wheatcroft wielding brushes as Chappell and Roberts delivered warmly lyrical solos.
Chappell’s knowledge of jazz history was impressive and he credited the composers of nearly every tune. Ray Henderson’s “Bye Bye Blackbird” was next, with features for Chappell, Roberts and the impressive Steve Tarner at the bass. Tarner is an important figure on the South Wales jazz scene and organises the regular Jazz & Blues Jams at the New Court Hotel in Usk.
Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia” was performed as a ballad with Roberts deploying a mute to bring a vocal quality to his trombone soloing. Melodic solos then followed from Chappell at the keyboard and Tarner on bass.
Roberts sat out as young guest singer Shakira Davies joined the Chappell Trio for a lively “Fly Me To The Moon”, with the swinging rhythms generated by Wheatcroft and Tarner supporting a sweet vocal from Davies and an instrumental solo from Chappell.
The young vocalist really came into her own with a gospel infused version of the Etta James song “At Last My Love Has Come Along”, which eventually saw Roberts returning to the group to shadow her vocal line.
“The Girl From Ipanema” was performed as an instrumental and as a tribute to the late Astrud Gilberto. Roberts took the first solo on trombone followed by Chappell at the keyboard, who adopted a vibraphone like sound, suggesting a Stan Getz / Gary Burton influence in the arrangement.
This enjoyable set ended with a swinging version of Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train”, which included features for Roberts, Chappell and Wheatcroft. The drummer had performed at the same venue the previous afternoon when he had formed part of the Deborah Glenister Trio.
This had been a great way to start the day and Roberts was to appear again later on at the helm of the Monmouth Big Band for their collaboration with the American vocalist LaVon Hardison. This was to take place at Theatr Brycheiniog as part of the concert programme, but more on that later.
TARA LOWE / JAMES CHADWICK DUO, ST. MARY’S CHURCH
Next at St. Mary’s was a duo performance from vocalist Tara Lowe and guitarist James Chadwick.
Cardiff based Chadwick had performed in the same space on Friday afternoon as part of a duo with vocalist / ukulele player Jane Williams, a short, four song ‘taster’ set that is reviewed as part of my Friday coverage.
Today’s set was more substantial and included eleven songs drawn from the jazz and bebop canon, but rarely the obvious ones.
The duo commenced with “Red Top”, a tune written by Lionel Hampton and later recorded by vocalist Betty Carter, who was presumably Lowe’s source of inspiration here. The song quickly revealed Lowe to be an adventurous vocalist with a real talent for jazz phrasing. Chadwick offered succinct instrumental support and delivered a typically thoughtful guitar solo.
The song “People Will Say We’re In Love” first appeared in the musical movie “Oklahoma!” but Lowe’s interpretation was inspired by an instrumental version recorded by the Israeli pianist Anat Cohen. Again this was an adventurous vocal performance from a singer prepared to take musical risks.
Duke Ellington’s “Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues” introduced a more earthy approach with Lowe still singing convincingly. This was followed by a vocalese version of Illinois Jacquet’s “Robbin’s Nest” that included both lyrics and wordless scat style vocals, with Lowe’s contribution augmented by Chadwick’s agile and inventive guitar work.
A slowed down arrangement of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” featured Lowe’s elongated vocal lines and Chadwick’s thoughtful guitar soloing.
Lowe’s fascination with vocalese emerged again on “Twisted”, a song with words by Annie Ross based on a Wardell Gray saxophone solo. This featured some clever, genuinely tongue twisting lyrics, with both Lowe and Chadwick rising to the musical challenge with aplomb.
“You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” was a little less demanding but a vocalese version of “I’m In The Mood For Love”, based on a James Moody sax solo, was described by Lowe as “difficult”. Again the duo dealt with the complexities with considerable aplomb.
Lowe was born in Cardiff and has recently returned to the city after several years of living in Spain and her parents were in the audience watching today’s show. The singer’s musical partnership with Chadwick is still relatively new but they have been gigging regularly as a duo and have already established an impressive rapport.
A passage of solo guitar introduced “Days Of Wine And Roses” and this was followed by a vocalese version of the Miles Davis classic “Four”, but I had to leave before the end of this to get to the first ticketed event of the day. It was scheduled to be the last number but the quality of the duo’s performance indicated that it was possible that an encore might also have been played.
Although I’ve seen James Chadwick perform many times before this was my first sighting of Tara Lowe. I have to say that I was very impressed with her singing and by her choice of an adventurous range of material. She also presented the show with charm and eloquence. Her return to Cardiff represents a welcome addition to the South Wales jazz scene and it would be fascinating to see her perform in other contexts, perhaps in a group with bass and drums and also with piano and horn players.
RACHEL STARRITT TRIO, THE MUSE
Rachel Starritt – piano, Ursula Harrison – double bass, Liz Exell – drums
Unsighted since her birth in 1994 Rachel Starritt is a young pianist from Bridgend who has studied both jazz and classical music at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff. She has also studied at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester and at the Conservatori Liciu in Barcelona. Her jazz tutors have included such jazz piano greats as Nikki Iles and Huw Warren.
Starritt pursues parallel careers in the classical and jazz worlds and is a member of the British Paraorchestra. As a classical musician she has performed internationally but her love of improvisation has drawn her increasingly towards jazz.
Brecon Jazz Club & Festival has been very supportive of Starritt’s jazz career and the pianist and her trio featuring bassist Clem Saynor and drummer Alex Goodyear performed livestream sets for the Virtual BJF in 2020 and the Hybrid BJF of 2021.
In March 2023 Starritt appeared at a Brecon Jazz club night at The Muse leading a trio featuring Liz Exell at the drums and Ashley John Long on double bass. This line up had never played together before but bonded instantly to deliver a set comprised of Starritt’s adventurous and inventive arrangements of a number of jazz standards.
Starritt has a very thorough knowledge of the standards repertoire and her approach to her chosen material is unfailingly audacious and inventive, very much in the spirit of Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau on the occasions that these great American pianists play jazz standards. Like them Starritt takes these wonderful tunes by the scruff of the neck and her highly imaginative arrangements take them to places where nobody expects them to go. In Long and Starritt, two highly receptive and adventurous musicians, she had the perfect partners for such a musical quest and the results were often magical.
The Club performance elicited a highly positive audience response with some observers expressing the opinion that this was the best gig they had ever seen at Brecon Jazz Club. The praise was equal for all three musicians, which was reflective of both the individual brilliance of the players and of the quality of the overall group performance.
Following the success of the Club night performance in March it was no surprise to see Starritt being invited back to The Muse as part of the Festival Concert Programme. Today’s early afternoon performance saw Starritt performing to another full house with a slightly different line up as bassist Ursula Harrison replaced Long. Harrison responded magnificently to the challenge and performed superbly throughout the set while Starritt expressed her delight at being able to perform as part of an all female trio.
As in March Starritt was playing the venue’s Zender upright acoustic piano, an instrument she seems to be particularly comfortable with. Like Mike Chappell she likes to give credit to the composers of the pieces she plays and today’s performance began with “The Jamfs Are Coming”, a composition by the late tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin (1928-2008). This opening number featured Starritt’s virtuoso piano soloing, but she is a generous leader and her arrangements also offer plenty of opportunities for her collaborators to express themselves. Harrison’s feature included a passage of unaccompanied double bass, while Exell’s included moments of finger snapping and hand drumming.
An aside – I recall seeing the late Griffin perform at BJF at the Memorial Theatre at Christ College back in 1992, although I can’t remember any of the details more than thirty years later. I also saw him at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 1997 but I’m just as vague about that. I just know that both gigs must have been good.
A subdued passage of unaccompanied piano introduced an otherwise uptempo arrangement of Victor Young’s “Beautiful Love”, the music suddenly bursting into rapidly swinging life as the bass and drums kicked in. Starritt’s subsequent soloing was imaginatively supported by Harrison and Exell and the piece ended as it began with a solo piano coda.
Exell is training to be a music therapist and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave” was introduced by a
‘musical seascape’ featuring the sounds of crystalline piano, this augmented by bowed bass and by one of Exell’s ‘therapy tools’ that imitated the sounds of waves lapping on the shore. Brushed drums then provided the undertow for the melodic pizzicato soloing of Harrison on double bass, with Starritt subsequently taking over on piano.
Ralph Rainger’s “If I Should Lose You” was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied piano with the first orthodox jazz solo coming from Harrison’s double bass, subtly, but playfully, punctuated by Exell at the kit. Starritt then stretched out more expansively at the piano, with the rhythm team again providing swinging support. Exell’s drum feature included a fascinating series of exchanges with her colleagues, and particularly Harrison as they ‘traded fours’.
“Visitation”, composed by the former Miles Davis and John Coltrane bassist Paul Chambers (1935-1969) represented an unusual choice. A contrafact based on the chord changes of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” this was performed in a slowed down arrangement with Exell initially deploying brushes. The excellent Harrison was to feature prominently with two extended double bass features, these punctuated by Starritt’s piano solo. Starritt clearly has an affinity with bass players, her announcement of Chambers’ tune also referencing other influential bassists such as Slam Stewart, Sam Jones and Oscar Pettiford.
The Dave Brubeck composition “In Your Own Sweet Way” was performed as a waltz, ushered in by an extended solo piano intro, with Starritt subsequently joined by double bass and bushed drums. Starritt’s piano solo was followed by Harrison’s on double bass, this evolving into an absorbing dialogue between bass and piano.
The 1930s song “Gone With The Wind” (not to be confused with the novel and film of the same name) was adapted as a jazz vehicle by pianist Art Tatum and saxophonist Ben Webster and it was their version that inspired Starritt. Again introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano this was a feature for Harrison’s excellent arco playing as she conjured horn like melodies with her bow, subtly and skilfully shadowed by Exell’s brushed drums. Harrison reverted to the pizzicato technique to support an exuberant Starritt solo that introduced elements of Tatum inspired stride piano. The audience loved it.
The introduction to “I Hear A Rhapsody” featured a particularly lengthy solo piano introduction that saw Starritt exploring the full sonic capabilities of the modest upright. The addition of bass and drums, and particularly Exell’s crisp cymbal work, endowed the music with a fast, fierce sense of swing which fuelled solos from Starritt and Harrison plus a drum feature from the ever impressive Exell. The piece also included a freely structured collectively improvised episode, with Harrison taking up the bow, as the trio continued to stretch the boundaries.
The audience loved the trio’s spirit of adventure and the instrumental virtuosity of the individual members and gave the group a terrific reception. After some discussion the trio settled on a revised version of “Wave” as an encore, a subtly different version to the earlier performance.
This performance was another triumph for Starritt and also for her two colleagues, with audience members again singling out Exell’s contribution. Harrison seems to relish the challenge and the freedom that playing in the piano trio format offers. She played this venue with Eddie Gripper in June, and her playing just keeps getting better and better. I’ve never seen her wield the bow as often as today and her arco playing was extremely impressive.
It would be good if somebody could tempt Starritt into the recording studio. Her adventurous and imaginative interpretations of a broad range of jazz standards bring something fresh and invigorating to the material and really deserve to be documented on disc.
FAITH i BRANKO, THEATR BRYCHEINIOG
Faith Ristic – accordion, vocals, Branko Ristic – violin, Matt Bacon – electric guitar, Brian Heddemann – drums with guests Xenia Porteous – violin, Iago Banet – acoustic guitar
Faith I Branko is a band co-led by the wife and husband team of the English born Faith Ristic (accordion, vocals) and the Serbian Romani violinist Branko Ristic. The regular four piece line up includes guitarist Matt Bacon and the Danish born drummer Brian Heddemann.
The Ristics met in Branko’s home village in 2009 and began a musical and romantic partnership that has resulted in two albums, “Gypsy Lover” (2016) and “Duhovi” (April 2023). Now based in London the band bearing the couple’s name has toured internationally and accrued a strong following that transcends musical and international boundaries. Their music is based on traditional Serbian and Romani tunes but has much of the improvisatory spirit of jazz and the band regularly appears at both folk and jazz festivals.
For this special BJF appearance the core Faith I Branko line up was augmented by the Cardiff based violinist Xenia Porteous and the Galician born, London based guitarist Iago Banet. Porteous is a great friend of BJF and has appeared at the festival on numerous occasions and in various musical contexts. She is arguably best known to jazz fans as a member of the South Wales based gypsy jazz quartet Hot Club Gallois. Banet is a finger style acoustic guitarist with two albums to his credit who frequently appears as a solo performer.
Faith’s English language announcements helped, but I couldn’t be definitive about most of the tune titles so this review will be more in style of an overall impression of the gig than a strict song by song account.
The opening number established Faith as a virtuoso accordionist and saw Branko moving between pizzicato and arco techniques. In the jazz spirit the piece also included solo features for Branko, Porteous and Banet, although the last two were little more than cameos.
The next piece featured Branko’s virtuoso bowing as he soloed above Faith’s accordion drone and Heddemann’s drum rhythms. Branko then encouraged Porteous to take over from him and she responded with an impressive solo of her own. The two violinists rapidly seemed to establish a strong rapport based on mutual respect. This piece also offered Banet the opportunity to demonstrate his own abilities as a soloist.
An untitled Romanian folk tune followed with Porteous and Banet again encouraged to express themselves alongside Branko.
A number of the tunes had working titles such as “D Minor Weird Thing” which saw Branko and Porteous trading violin solos, followed by Banet on acoustic guitar.
The tune “Graveyard Rhumba” had been recorded at Heddemann’s home studio, adjacent to a London cemetery. It was a piece that featured his playing extensively during the course of a colourful drum feature.
Faith seemed to have settled into a more supportive role since the opener but came to the fore again on a Roma / Serbian folk song that featured her haunting vocals alongside the drone of her accordion and the shimmer of Heddemann’s cymbals. Branko’s violin provided melodic embellishment before evolving into a full on solo, with Porteous subsequently invited to take over from him. The song also featured Faith playing recorder and violin simultaneously, an impressive feat. The guitarists were eventually admitted to the proceedings with Banet acting as a soloist.
“F sharp Minor” featured the core quartet as Porteous and Banet temporarily vacated the stage with both Faith and Branko acting as soloists. This configuration also performed “Me Mangav Tut” (translating as “I Want You”), a tune from the recent “Duhovi” album.
From the same recording came Branko’s composition “Rumunska Vez”, a tune that was originally developed in 2021 for the couple’s livestream broadcasts. A highly energetic piece this saw Bacon, who had hitherto occupied a primarily rhythmic role, coming to greater prominence as folk melodies were merged with rock rhythms. Bacon also plays with She’ Koyokh, another band playing the music of the Balkans, and had appeared with them at a Festival in Church Stretton, Shropshire the night before. Further solos were to come from Branko, Porteous and Banet.
The next piece began slowly and atmospherically with violin and accordion drones allied to cymbal shimmers, before accelerating suddenly and rapidly, a device used in many strands of folk music and one which tempted a couple of dancers to their feet to gyrate in the aisles.
“Indian” was based on a Bollywood tune and saw Branko and Porteous exchanging phrases above a tambura like accordion drone. Porteous and Banet then soloed more expansively and Faith repeated her recorder / accordion manoeuvre.
The dancing fans, regular followers of the band, requested the tune “Techno” and the band closed the show with this. Fortunately it sounded nothing like EDM and was notable for a series of exchanges involving Bacon and the two violinists.
Overall I enjoyed this set from Faith i Branko and there was some genuinely virtuoso playing, not least from the co-leaders. The two guests made notable contributions with the versatile and adaptable Porteous integrating particularly successfully. She will return to BJF with Hot Club Gallois on Saturday 19th August.
However it was all a little relentless, the tunes racing along at a frantic pace and with little scope for light and shade amidst the bravado musicianship. The folk song sung by Faith was the only genuinely slow number. However this is music designed for dancing as much as for listening and I’m sure the band often play venues where dancing is more actively encouraged. It would be interesting to see them in a less formal environment.
FESTIVAL BIG BAND directed by GARETH ROBERTS with LaVON HARDISON, THEATR BRYCHEINIOG
LaVon Hardison – vocals
Gareth Roberts – Musical Director, trombone
James Graham, Huw Howell, Anne Holder, Jenny Cook, Rod Cunningham – reeds
Peter Lloyd, Colin Roberts, Martin Leighton, Harri Archer – trombones
Terry Claxton, Alan Holder, John Lindsay, David Ford, Ken McDonald – trumpets
Karen Millar – keyboard
Ian Graham – guitar
James Leney – bass
Louis Barfe – drums
Anybody who had witnessed the powerful performance by the American vocalist LaVon Hardison with the Glen Manby Quartet at the Castle Hotel could have had no doubts that the singer would be more than capable of holding her own when fronting a jazz big band.
The Festival Big Band was essentially the Monmouth Big Band, with only young bass trombonist Harri Archer not a regular member of that aggregation.
Gareth Roberts has been the Musical Director of the MBB for ten years and the band is a well drilled and highly accomplished unit, adept at playing the arrangements of Roberts and others. Previous performances that I have seen have also featured some of Roberts’ excellent original compositions, either from his “Monmouthshire Suite”, written specifically for the MBB, or scaled up arrangements of tunes written for his quintet and other smaller groups.
With Hardison guesting the focus was on standards and the band began with an instrumental version of “I Can’t Help Loving You”. It was good to be reminded of the huge sound that a traditional jazz big band can make and the performance included fluent solos from pianist Karen Millar and trombonist Colin Roberts.
A second instrumental, “I Got Rhythm”, featured a barnstorming trombone solo from Gareth Roberts as he featured his own superlative playing at his second gig of the day.
Hardison was welcomed to the stage for the standard “All Of Me”, adding her powerful, soulful voice to that authentic big band sound. Clad in the proverbial ‘little black dress’ she was more formally attired than at the Castle as she fulfilled the traditional role of the big band singer.
Hardison and Gareth Roberts had been emailing on a regular basis with regard to arrangements but had only actually met on the day of the gig. Both are extrovert personalities and they struck up an immediate on stage rapport and some of their between tunes banter was simply hilarious.
Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” followed, with Hardison’s sassy vocal augmented by another fine piano solo from Karen Millar, who had also featured on “All Of Me”.
In Hardison’s hands “My Funny Valentine” was less lugubrious than usual while a finger snapping version of Peggy Lee’s “Fever” was tailor made for the force of nature that is LaVon Hardison.
“L-O-V-E” featured both Hardison and Gareth Roberts and their scat vocal and trombone exchanges were as inspired as their verbal badinage.
“It Had To Be You” featured an arrangement by pianist / vocalist Harry Connick Jr. while an instrumental version of “In The Mood” featured a Jeff Tyzik arrangement that swung much harder than the familiar Glenn Miller version and afforded soloing opportunities for alto saxophonist James Graham, trumpeter Alan Holder and drummer Louis Barfe (or was it his Scottish alter ego Willie Barr?).
A strident “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” featured Hardison’s lively scatting and a further alto solo from James Graham.
“Moonglow” featured trumpeter Alan Holder alongside Hardison’s vocal. Her singing was almost operatic on an emotive “That’s All”.
We now entered a more prolonged “lunar section” that included arrangements of “Fly Me To The Moon”, and “Blue Moon”.
The blues “Route 66” featured the original American lyrics (as opposed to Laura Collin’s Welsh version from the day before) and also offered further opportunities for some of the instrumentalists to shine. Leney’s double bass was prominent in the arrangement as was Millar’s piano with James Graham again soloing on alto. Hardison encouraged the audience to clap along with her scat vocal feature, before embarking on a series of exchanges with Gareth’s plunger muted trombone. Finally we heard from guitarist Ian Graham as he finally stepped into the spotlight.
The last number was the Duke Ellington classic “It Don’t Mean A Thing” with Hardison enjoying a little call and response with the audience as well as embarking on another impressive scat vocal episode. Instrumental solos came from Gareth Roberts on trombone and Alan Holder on vocalised muted trumpet.
Gareth Roberts informed the audience that this would be his last gig with the Monmouth Big Band as he was relinquishing the role of MD in order to spend more time with his young family, who were present in the audience.
But what a special gig to go out on. The BJF audience loved LaVon Hardison and she had clearly been delighted to perform for them in the company of such an accomplished Festival Big Band.
Somehow I think we’re going to be seeing LaVon Hardison back in Brecon again this time next year.
DIONNE BENNETT & FRIENDS, THE MUSE
Dionne Bennett – vocals, John-Paul Gard – organ, Dominic Norcross – tenor saxophone, Liz Exell – drums
The last gig of the day featured another powerhouse singer, Cardiff based Dionne Bennett.
Bennett first came to my attention as the vocalist and lyricist of Slowly Rolling Camera, pianist Dave Stapleton’s highly successful jazz / soul / trip hop outfit. She appeared on the band’s first two albums “Slowly Rolling Camera” (2014) and “All Things” (2016) before leaving the group, at which point SRC became an all instrumental outfit once more.
Bennett appeared at the 2021 Brecon Jazz Festival as part of 6.0, an all female sextet led by bassist / guitarist Paul Gardiner. She then returned in 2022, appearing at The Muse with her regular quintet and with Gardiner featuring as a guest.
Billed as ‘Dionne Bennett & Friends’ tonight’s line up was a one off aggregation featuring organist John Paul Gard, tenor saxophonist Dominic Norcross and drummer Liz Exell, all Brecon Jazz favourites. Exell was playing her fourth concert of the weekend, surely making her “the hardest working drummer in Brecon”, a title once bestowed on Steve Brown. Exell’s gigs with tap dancer Annette Walker, the Gary Brunton / Emma Rawicz Quartet, the Rachel Starritt trio and now the Dionne Bennett combo were all very different and reflected well on her versatility and great musicality as a drummer.
Steeped in soul and gospel Bennett has also begun to develop a talent for vocalese as she increasingly pushes her astonishingly powerful voice further into improvised areas. Tonight’s organ driven ensemble had something of a ‘jam band’ feel about it with its roots in Blue Note style soul jazz and in the later Acid Jazz movement. It’s an approach that has accrued Bennett something of a following and it was noticeable how many younger people were in the audience for tonight’s event with an area left clear for dancing. There was a real ‘club atmosphere’ about The Muse for this late night gig.
The instrumentalists kicked the night off with Gard taking the lead at the organ, joined first by Exell’s drums and then by Norcross’ tenor. With Gard playing bass on the organ foot pedals the music soon built up a head of steam with blistering solos from Gard and Norcross and a powerful drum feature from Exell, who revelled in the freedom and informality that this group offered. The exchanges between Gard and Exell were particularly exciting and clearly delighted the watching Bennett.
Bennett joined the band for a radical soul jazz re-working of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”, singing the lyrics over a shuffling groove, with instrumental solos coming from Gard and Norcross.
An organ and drum groove fuelled “Ain’t No Sunshine”, with Norcross soloing above the seductive rhythms and Bennett delivering a soulful and impassioned vocal performance. Finally Gard took flight at the twin manual keyboard, soling above Exell’s sturdy back beat.
Voice and organ introduced “God Bless The Child”, a powerful rendition that was very different to the familiar Billie Holiday version. Bennett’s passionate singing was augmented by instrumental solos from Norcross and Gard.
I wasn’t expecting a break but the first set ended with a version of “Summertime” that included a dazzling scat vocal and a series of voice and tenor sax exchanges in addition to more conventional solos from Norcross and Gard. Perhaps the break was necessary for Bennett to re-charge her voice, she had certainly pushed it to the limit with her larynx shredding performances thus far.
The shorter second set also kicked off with an instrumental, with raunchy tenor sax and soulful, dirty sounding Hammond augmented by Exell’s powerful beats. This updating of the Blue Note organ trio sound was well received by the dancers at the front of the stage.
Bennett then returned to the stage to deliver a stunning version of “Amazing Grace”, her gospel drenched vocals transporting the listeners at The Muse to a Baptist Church somewhere in the American Deep South. It really was an astonishingly powerful vocal performance. Bennett’s remarkable singing was augmented by solos from Norcross and Gard, the latter’s organ playing at its most ‘church like’.
Thanking the band for a final time Bennett spoke of Exell ‘backboning it’ and it was true that her drumming was the foundation of the music. The closing “Sunny” saw Exell helping to establish a slinky, seductive groove that underpinned Bennett’s scat vocal feature and the solos of both Norcross and Gard. Particularly striking was the voice and drum dialogue between Bennett and Exell and the latter’s subsequent drum solo.
This high powered performance brought the day’s events to a memorable close and the only reservation was that it was just too short. I could happily have listened to more of this. Like Rachel Staritt, who had started the day off at The Muse, I’d love to hear Dionne Bennett’s music being committed to disc.
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