by Ian Mann
June 23, 2020
A wide ranging set that explored a broad array of musical styles & geographical locations. It incorporated some superb singing & playing and was both musically adventurous and reassuringly intimate.
Alice Zawadzki / Rob Luft Duo, Livestream in aid of Jazz at The Lescar, Sheffield, 19/06/2020.
Alice Zawadzki – vocals, violin
Rob Luft – guitar
Tonight’s event was the fourth in an on line series curated by the Sheffield based jazz club Jazz at The Lescar.
Performances normally take place at The Lescar Hotel in the Hunter’s Bar area of the city but have now been forced on line by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Previous on line events have featured pianists Sam Leak, Joe Webb and drummer Johnny Hunter.
These on line performances are accessed via the event streaming platform Crowdcast, with audiences paying a sum of their own choosing, but with the recommended sum being just £5.00.
Following the performance audience members are then invited to join a Zoom meeting, designed to try and replicate the authentic jazz club experience.
Having been asked by good friend Jez Matthews, the co-ordinator of events at Jazz at The Lescar to give this particular show a mention on the Jazzmann I decided to stump up my fiver and take a look. I’m very pleased that I did so as vocalist/violinist Alice Zawadzki and guitarist Rob Luft delivered an intimate and excellent duo performance. Their choice of material was eclectic and wide ranging, with songs sourced from a variety of musical genres and cultures.
The show was introduced by Jez Matthews, seated at home at his piano, who paid tribute to the whole Jazz at The Lescar team for helping to set up tonight’s performance.
We then went over to the duo of Luft and Zawadzki, seated side by side on a sofa in the home of one or other of them. Zawadzki was sitting cross-legged in a kind of yoga position, one that she retained all night, even while playing the violin. It was perhaps most appropriate, given the remarkable vocal gymnastics that she was about to unleash.
Although it wasn’t visible Luft was deploying a pedal board that allowed him to utilise a variety of guitar effects, including live looping.
Zawadzki and Luft are no strangers to the Jazzmann web pages. Both of Zawadzki’s albums for Whirlwind Recordings, 2014’s “China Lane” and 2019’s exceptional “Within You There Is A World Of Spring” are reviewed elsewhere on this site. Links here;
Luft made a substantial contribution to the success of Zawadzki’s second album and has also recorded two discs under his own name for the Edition label. His universally acclaimed début “Riser” (2017) is reviewed here;
Meanwhile I’m grateful to Rob for recently forwarding me a review copy of his new Edition release “Life is the Dancer” (2020), which will be the subject of a full review very soon.
Luft is also a willing collaborator whose playing has frequently enhanced the work of others. He recently won a considerable amount of critical and audience claim for his partnership with the experienced saxophonist Dave O’Higgins on the album “Plays Monk & Trane”, a recording that found him paying homage to the jazz tradition, while still bringing plenty of himself to the music.
Others with whom Luft has worked include vocalists Elina Duni and Luna Cohen, saxophonist Phil Meadows, bassist Misha Mullov- Abbado, trumpeter Byron Wallen, cellist Shirley Smart, drummer Enzo Zirilli, violinist Faith Brackenbury and multi-instrumentalist Felix Jay.
Zawadzki and Luft have also established themselves as excellent and dynamic live performers. I first discovered Zawadzki and her music in 2012 when she led a band featuring Kit Downes (keyboards), Alex Roth (guitar) and Jon Scott (drums) at a packed Green Note as part of the 2012 EFG London Jazz Festival. I also a recall a more subdued performance at Cowbridge Church as part of the Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival, this show more folk and classically orientated with Zwadzki performing as part of a trio featuring Roth and a cellist whose name currently escapes me. This was a themed performance with the various pieces linked by a lunar theme.
I have also seen Zawadzki performing as a sidewoman with artists such as guitarist Moss Freed, saxophonist Phil Meadows and trombonist Raph Clarkson.
The Green Note show forms part of my Festival coverage here;
More recently Luft brought his working band, an exceptional quintet featuring Joe Wright (sax), Joe Webb (keyboards), Tom McCredie (bass) and Corrie Dick (drums) to The Hive in Shrewsbury, where they proceeded to deliver one of the best performances that I’ve ever seen at this venue.
Turning again to tonight’s livestream concert, which saw the duo beginning with their unique interpretation of the song “Willow Weep For Me”, written in 1932 by Ann Ronell. Zawadzki and Luft delivered a typically adventurous arrangement that featured Zawadzki’s pure but highly flexible voice singing wordlessly as well as delivering the suitably lachrymose lyric.
This being a livestream event comments from those watching, the ‘virtual audience’ appeared on the side of the screen next to the performers. One listener described the sound of Luft’s guitar as “luminous”, a perfect summation of a style that embraces many influences to create a sound of great beauty. Luft’s command of his various effects is masterful and it’s probably fair to say that at even this comparatively early stage of his career he has established an individual sound that is instantly recognisable – putting him in the same kind of bracket as greats such as Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, Ralph Towner and Robert Fripp.
The duo’s version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “No More Blues” featured another adventurous vocal from Zawadzki as she sang the English lyric. The performance also featured a typically excellent Luft guitar solo, a combination of sophisticated chording and an almost orchestral control of tone and dynamics.
The musical world tour continued with the multi-lingual Zawadzki singing in Italian on a song written by the late Italian singer songwriter Dominico Modugno (1928-94) and based on a Neapolitan folk song, the title translating as “My Beautiful and Bitter Land”. Luft’s playing ranged from a conventionally clean ‘jazz guitar’ sound to live looping effects. Later, with Zawadzki now singing wordlessly, the pair edged towards a sound that was closer to the Middle East or North Africa.
From Zawadzki’s album “Within You Is A World Of Spring” came her adaptation of “Es Verdad”, a song with Spanish lyrics based on a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, the title meaning “It’s True” and with the words telling of “the many ways in which love can be painful”. Zawadzki’s audacious arrangement merges the song with the traditional Irish tune “Rakish Paddy” and this led to her taking up the violin for the first time, sometimes using the body of the instrument as auxiliary percussion as Luft made effective use of a slide on his guitar. The performance was a tour de force for Zawadzki who began it singing acapella and concluded it with a virtuoso violin solo, soaring above Luft’s circling guitar motif.
Luft’s love of Argentinian music was reflected in the choice of a song with a title translating as “Untie The Ribbons Of Your Hair” and with a Spanish lyric described by Zawadzki as being about a “clandestine romance”. The performance also included some stunning wordless vocalising from the singer, the brooding intensity of the duo’s performance evoking something of the Spanish spirit of “Duende”.
Next a Sephardic folk song that Zawadzki had learned from the Greek singer Savina Yannatou, its two hundred verses here much condensed, but joyous in their folk like melodies.
“We’re going back to jazz now” announce Zawadzki as the pair tackled “Since I Fell For You”, a song written by Buddy Johnson and made famous by Nina Simone. Both the singer and the guitarist brought an authentic blues feel to a lyric that sounded as if it could have been written for Billie Holiday. In fact Holiday never recorded the tune, but it has been covered by a host of pop and jazz performers, ranging from Doris Day to Lee Morgan!
A good natured but radically updated “On The Street Where You Live” ended the show, very loosely based on a version by Nat King Cole but with plenty of contemporary twists. One hesitates to wonder what Nat would have made of Luft’s live looping techniques and Zawadzki’s soaring violin.
This had been a wide ranging set that had explored a broad array of musical styles and geographical locations. Genially co-hosted by Zawadzki and Luft it incorporated some superb singing and playing and managed to be both musically adventurous and reassuringly intimate. The duo struck a good balance between emotion and technical skill and the range of sounds and styles gave the performance an appealingly exotic edge. Often very beautiful the music was warmly appreciated by an online audience that included viewers in Sheffield, Birmingham, London and Lisbon, and probably many more places besides.
I didn’t join in the subsequent Zoom conversation but was very pleased to have tuned in to the main event, my enjoyment of which has led to this, my first “Live Music” review since early March. The sound was excellent throughout, so congratulations to Jez and his team for that, and there were no technical or ‘latency’ issues.
I did subsequently manage to catch the duo’s encore, a suitably upbeat rendition of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street”, inspired by versions by Frank Sinatra and particularly Louis Armstrong. As Luft explained Armstrong lived through the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and the joyful jazz of 1920s New Orleans represented the city’s way of bouncing back from that sad time. The parallels with our own times are obvious. The performance included some good natured vocal scatting from Zawadzki, alongside a breezy interpretation of the lyric, and a wonderfully fluent solo from Luft.
Overall this was a very impressive duo performance from Zawadzki and Luft, and well done to them, but how much more intense and compelling it would have been if we could all have been in the same room.
One day that may happen, but I fear that it could still be a while off yet.
Regarding the next Jazz at The Lescar livestream event Jez Matthews writes;
We’ve got another livestream gig coming up in two weeks, on Friday 3rd July. Another amazing guitarist, Eran Har Even, will be playing live from Amsterdam with a great trio trio featuring Zack Lober on Bass and Roberto Pistolesi on drums. Please join us for that!
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