by Ian Mann
December 03, 2022
Tonight’s performance by this one-off quintet was very much in the spirit of jazz, with old and new friends making music sourced from a shared musical vocabulary.
Juliet Arthur with the John McDonald Quartet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, The Corn Exchange Room, Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs. 01/12/2022
Juliet Arthur – vocals, John McDonald – piano, John McKinley – guitar, Marty Lannaman – double bass, Marsh Barton – drums
Kidderminster Jazz Club’s final event of 2022 was meant to feature the London based vocalist Aydenne Simone but she was forced to withdraw at relatively short notice due to illness.
The event was also to be KJC’s last gig in the beautiful Corn Exchange Room at Kidderminster Town Hall, the Club’s home since its inception in October 2019. The Town Hall is due to be extensively re-furbished, a project that will commence in early 2023 and which is expected to take at least two years.
Happily KJC has found a new home at the nearby 45 Live Venue, a stones throw from the Town Hall and actually visible from KJC’s current location. A full programme is already in place from February to July 2023 (more on that later) and I’m already looking forward to checking out the new venue in the New Year. What we will all miss though is the magnificent grand piano at the Town Hall, expertly played tonight by John McDonald.
When KJC organiser Annette Gregory was alerted that Aydenne would have to re-schedule she considered filling the now vacant slot herself. A highly accomplished jazz vocalist she had played the ‘Christmas Slot’ in 2019, but she too is recovering from a recent illness and didn’t feel that she could do herself justice.
Not wishing to cancel KJC’s last gig at the Town Hall Gregory turned to her pianist and musical director John McDonald who suggested the name of Juliet Arthur, a vocalist with whom John had worked during his days in the Hertfordshire / Cambridgeshire era. A former opera singer Arthur had also enjoyed performing jazz but had left full time music in order to raise a family. Still based in Hertfordshire Juliet agreed to do the gig and drove up to Kidderminster on a very foggy day, meeting with McDonald in the morning to work out a programme and rehearsing with her new bandmates on the afternoon of the gig. She only met guitarist John McKinley, bassist Marty Lannaman and drummer Marsh Barton at 3.00pm and was on stage with them by 7.30 pm.
One off and last minute collaborations are a familiar occurrence in jazz with the musicians united by the common language of ‘The Great American Songbook’. Congratulations are due to Arthur and McDonald for a particularly well chosen set list that included many jazz standards, some highly familiar, others less so. The hastily re-arranged pre-gig publicity also promised us some bossa nova and there was a very healthy portion of Brazilian music too.
It had been a long time since Arthur had last sung jazz in public and understandably she was a little tentative at first, but soon warmed to her task with the assistance and encouragement of the highly accomplished ‘house band’. McDonald and McKinley have both been staples of the KJC house band and both are hugely fluent and imaginative soloists. Their playing has previously been heard at the Club in the company of such UK jazz luminaries as the saxophonists Alan Barnes and Simon Spillett and the late, great jazz vocalist Tina May – plus Annette Gregory herself, of course.
Lannaman and Barton were new faces to me but both were highly accomplished players, with Barton a swinging and propulsive presence behind the kit, even when deploying brushes the majority of the time. Something of a ‘character’ Barton was also highly supportive of Arthur, consistently offering applause and encouragement.
Things kicked off with “It’s Only A Paper Moon”, with Arthur’s singing augmented with instrumental solos from McDonald and McKinley plus a series of brushed drum breaks from Barton as he traded fours with piano and guitar.
“Tangerine” was done with a Latin twist and featured solos from McDonald and McKinley alongside Arthur’s vocals.
Introduced by guitar and double bass “The Things We Did Last Summer” included instrumental solos from McKinley and McDonald with the pianist’s insertion of a number of quotes eliciting a guffaw from bassist Lannaman. This was a good humoured gig with the band really entering into the spirit of things and offering each other support and encouragement.
A lively version of “The More I See You” was followed by a highly effective version of the rarely heard ballad “I’ll Be Around” with Arthur’s emotive vocal enhanced by Lannaman’s rich round bass tone, Barton’s delicate brush work and pianist McDonald at his most lyrical.
“Close Your Eyes” saw Arthur joining McDonald on the piano stool in a homage to the famous version by Dudley Moore and Marion Montgomery, although McDonald didn’t quite unleash the ‘Full Dudley’ on us as he shared the instrumental solos with McKinley.
The first excursion to Brazil came with “One Note Samba”, notable for Arthur’s assured delivery of the quick-fire lyrics and Barton’s playing of the drum kit with bare hands. As ever instrumental solos came from McDonald and McKinley.
Unaccompanied piano introduced “Teach Me Tonight”, the slyly lascivious lyric sensuously sung by Arthur and with Lannaman’s bass counter melodies also a notable feature.
A value for money first set concluded with a jaunty rendition of “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” with McDonald and McKinley again providing the instrumental highlights.
The second half also began in playful fashion with “When I Take My Sugar To Tea”.
The mood then changed with a beautifully intimate voice and piano duo performance of the ballad “That’s All”.
“Close Enough For Love” was another song to be given a Latin twist and was to feature McKinley on guitar. McKinley was also the featured soloist on the following “All or Nothing At All”.
We were to return to Brazil for “Corcovado” (aka “Quiet Nights”), a piece introduced by McKinley at the guitar and with Arthur delivering the English lyrics as Barton again played with bare hands, whilst also wielding shakers.
“Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” incorporated solos from the dexterous Lannaman and from McDonald, who this time incorporated a series of classical quotes, specifically Bach, into his solo.
Solo piano introduced “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”, a favourite song of Arthur’s and one which featured her well enunciated vocals. The clarity of the singer’s diction ensured that the lyrics of every song could be clearly heard, which greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the performance. Arthur resisted any temptation to deliver scat episodes or mere demonstrations of technique, instead concentrating fully on the songs themselves and their words and meanings. Her singing here was complemented by McKinley’s typically elegant guitar soloing.
To Brazil again with “Wave”, with Arthur’s deft delivery of the English lyric augmented by instrumental solos from McDonald and McKinley.
That most enduring of ballads, “My Funny Valentine” was introduced by McDonald and developed into another intimate and highly effective voice / piano duet before eventually developing into a full band piece with the subtle addition of guitar, bass and brushed drums.
A final visit to South America for “No More Blues”, again featuring the English lyric. Ironically this featured Arthur’s first real stumble of the night, right at the final hurdle. But by this stage the audience were quick to forgive her as McDonald and McKinley came to the rescue with their instrumental soloing.
With this being the December club night the deserved encore was sourced from the Yuletide repertoire, a jazz arrangement of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.
Despite the last minute line up change this was still a highly enjoyable way to round off KJC’s tenure at the Town Hall. Hopefully they will be able to return following the refit.
By her own admission Arthur was a little ‘rusty’ but still managed to rise to the occasion, benefiting greatly from the support of an empathic and supportive quartet who were right behind her every step of the way. McDonald and McKinley were both hugely impressive as soloists while Lannaman and Barton made the most of their solo moments whilst also providing excellent rhythmic support. The one off quintet were united by the shared language of jazz and they took a very understanding audience along with them. As far as I know nobody chose not to attend due to the line up change and the audience got right behind the band from the outset. There is no substitute for live music and tonight’s performance was very much in the spirit of jazz, with old and new friends making music sourced from a shared musical vocabulary. Well done to them all for putting together such an enjoyable programme at short notice and especially to Juliet for making the long journey in very difficult weather conditions to entertain us so well.
Kidderminster Jazz Club’s programme for 2023 will feature;
Thur 2nd Feb – J4 Quartet
Thur 9th Mar – Esther Bennett
Thur 6th April – Xhosa Cole
Thur 4th May – Swing From Paris (TBC)
Thur 1st June – Will Barnes Quartet
Thur 6th July – Julian Costello Quartet
Events will take place at 45 Live Venue, 4-5 Oxford Street, Kidderminster, Worcs. DY10 1BB
More information at http://www.kidderminsterjazzclub.co.ukblog comments powered by Disqus