by Ian Mann
June 03, 2016
What sets this album apart is the quality of Webb's writing and arranging. It's an extremely classy piece of work that is likely to have considerable across the board appeal.
Alex Webb & The Copasetics
“Call Me Lucky”
(Splash Point Records SPR017CD)
Pianist and composer Alex Webb is a prolific, if largely unacknowledged, writer and musician who has written songs for West End and Broadway stage productions as well as collaborating with a wide range of jazz and pop performers as a songwriter, pianist and musical director.
Conscious that much of his output is written specifically for live performance and remains undocumented on disc Webb contacted a stellar ‘first eleven’ of his vocalist friends, both male and female, and asked if they would be willing to contribute to an album featuring a collection of Webb’s original songs. To Webb’s self confessed “amazement and delight” all said yes with the star studded cast being dubbed “The Copasetics”. With the exception of Vimala Rowe and China Moses who both appear twice, each vocalist sings one song on this thirteen song collection.
I’ll name the vocalists as I take a look at the individual songs but the album also features some of the UK’s leading jazz instrumentalists. Webb himself plays piano and organ but the cast also includes Freddie Gavita and Sue Richardson (trumpet & flugelhorn), Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Denys Baptiste (tenor sax), Winston Rollins (trombone) and Jo Caleb (guitar). Bass duties are shared between Miles Danso, Andrew Cleyndert, Alex Davis and Fabien Marcoz. Behind the drum kit we hear Sophie Alloway, Andy Chapman and Jean-Pierre Derouard.
Cheekily packaged in a sleeve that cleverly pastiches The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”, a homage perhaps to the most famous songwriting partnership of them all, “Call Me Lucky” kicks off in rousing fashion with Vimala Rowe’s sassy rendition of the Betty Carter inspired “It’s Your Move” which also features some punchy horn lines plus an exciting series of instrumental exchanges featuring Webb on piano, Facey on alto and Chapman at the drums.
The mood is more sombre and reflective on “Winters”, a song co-written by Webb and vocalist Ayanna Witter-Johnson who also appears on cello. Witter-Johnson’s rendition of the introspective lyric is coolly elegant and her cello shares the instrumental honours with Caleb’s incisive electric guitar.
“Me And My Crazy Ideas” features the soulful, almost feminine sounding vocals of David McAlmont, a singer who achieved a degree of mainstream pop success thanks to his collaboration with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler. There’s an agreeable pop/soul sheen to this contemporary urban love song which sees Webb doubling on Hammond.
China Moses, the daughter of the celebrated vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, is a long term Webb collaborator and has recorded his songs on her own albums. Although “Bad Girls (Need Love Too)”
wasn’t written specifically for her she very much makes it her own with her confident delivery of the worldly wise and sometimes risqué lyrics. The music is driven by Alex Davis’ underpinning bass groove and features some characteristically punchy punctuation from the horns.
Sandra Nkake is a Cameroonian singer, songwriter and actress based in Paris and is probably less well known to UK audiences than many of the other vocalists on this album. She collaborated with Webb on his stage production “Strayhorn the Songwriter” and impresses with her smoky delivery on the after hours ballad “As If”, which also features a gently bluesy trombone solo from the excellent Winston Rollins.
Webb’s title track was written with the intention of evoking the “easy swing of the 40s and 50s”. Indeed the tune does have the feeling of a standard from the ‘Great American Songbook’ era, a quality enhanced by vocalist Alexia Gardner’s breezy delivery and Freddie Gavita’s bright and breezy trumpeting.
Webb has worked extensively with the young vocalist Alexander Stewart. The song “Infatuation” was written specifically for his smooth, urbane, Sinatra inspired voice. There’s a genuine ‘old school’ feel about this piece too, a quality enhanced by Sue Richardson’s Chet Baker inspired trumpet contributions.
I must admit that the young singer Cherise Coryna is another new name to me but she acquits herself well on the joyous, Brazilian flavoured “Open The Windows (Tudo Bem)”. Webb features on Hammond and Caleb on guitar while Richardson makes another strong showing on trumpet. There’s even a whistled chorus from the versatile Coryna on this perfect summer soundtrack.
China Moses displays another side to her vocal talent on the melancholy “Nothing But A Blues”. The piece was co-written by the singer in conjunction with Webb and pianist Raphael Lemonnier, who is at the keyboard on this track, sensitively accompanied bassist Fabien Marcoz and drummer Jean-Pierre Derouard. There’s a Billie Holiday-like sad wistfulness about Moses’ singing on this track, a quality compounded by a haunting string arrangement.
New York based vocalist Allan Harris worked with Webb on the stage show “Café Society Swing”. Something of a rising star in the US he has recorded two albums under his own name and been honoured by the influential DownBeat magazine. He’s in ebullient form on the street wise and hard swinging “Enough”, another piece that tips its hat in the direction of Sinatra with Denys Baptiste weighing in with some tasty tenor.
Like China Moses previously Vimala Rowe gets to showcase another aspect of her talent on the ballad “Low Low Places (Parts 1 & 2)”. Webb declares that it was his intention to “evoke a Billy Strayhorn-ish melancholia”, on this piece, something that he achieves thanks to Rowe’s assured vocal and a lyric that seems to allude to Strayhorn’s after hours masterpiece “Lush Life”.
Jo Harrop contributes a smoothly sumptuous vocal to the gentle Brazilian bossa of “End Of The Affair”, her singing complemented by the velvet tones of Sue Richardson’s flugelhorn.
The album concludes with the voice and piano of Liane Carroll, another artist who has previously recorded Webb’s songs. Her soulful and authoritative performance on “Words I Never Spoke” make Webb’s song very much her own.
I must admit that “Call Me Lucky” is an album that falls slightly outside my usual listening zone,
being variously too ‘old school’ or too ‘poppy’ for my personal listening tastes. At the same time I can appreciate that it’s an extremely classy piece of work. All of the vocalists perform superbly and they are well supported by a strong cast of instrumentalists, many of whom produce excellent cameos of their own.
But what sets this album apart is the quality of Webb’s writing and arranging. His songs are bright, witty and intelligent but also emotionally involving when they need to be. He’s rooted in the traditional songwriting virtues of ‘Tin Pan Alley’ and the ‘Great American Songbook’ and his songs have a timeless quality, many of them sound as if they ought to be standards.
I’m also impressed that Webb has chosen to feature his chosen vocalists on a collection of original material rather than taking the easy option and falling back on a bunch of standards. It’s also to his credit that the album coheres so well as a musical statement despite the rotating cast of singers and musicians. It’s an album that is likely to have considerable across the board appeal, again something that reflects well on both the quality of the performances and the quality of Webb’s writing.
In the light of all these factors I’m more than happy to award “Call Me Lucky” four stars and a recommendation.
The album launch will take place at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London on the evening of June 7th 2016. Full details from http://www.pizzaexpresslive.com