by Ian Mann
October 07, 2019
Ian Mann enjoys a performance by pianist / vocalist Wendy Kirkland and her quintet at the launch of the new Kidderminster Jazz Club. He also takes a look at Wendy's latest album "The Music's On Me".
Wendy Kirkland Quintet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Kidderminster Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs. 03/10/2019.
Wendy Kirkland – piano, vocals
Pat Sprakes – guitar
Roger Beaujolais – vibraphone
Paul Jefferies – double bass
Mitch Perrins – drums
This evening’s performance by pianist / vocalist Wendy Kirkland represented a highly significant event, the launch of Kidderminster Jazz Club.
The Club has been founded by the jazz vocalist Annette Gregory following her move to the area. Annette’s new venture has been generously supported by the local District Council and a full programme of events will be presented, usually on the first Thursday of the month, between October 2019 and June 2020. Future guests will include such well known names as saxophonist Alan Barnes and vocalist Tina May, plus Annette Gregory herself of course! The full programme for the coming months can be found at http://www.kidderminsterjazzclub.co.uk
Annette has clearly put a lot of hard work into publicising her new venture, whether through traditional printed methods or via social media. With a number of local radio stations also on board her endeavours were rewarded with an excellent turn out for this first night, which took place in the relaxed environment of Kidderminster Town Hall’s Corn Exchange Room, just off the main performance space. This more intimate setting proved to be ideal for jazz and the presence of the venue’s own Steinway grand piano was greatly appreciated, both by Kirkland and her grateful listeners.
Chesterfield based Kirkland has always gigged on a regular basis in the Midlands and the North of England with a variety of different musicians and in a wide range of jazz contexts. As a band leader her current projects include the Organik Trio, in which she plays Hammond organ, a group that is sometimes expanded to a four piece with the addition of a guest saxophonist to become the quartet Organik Fource.
In her role as a promoter she runs the successful Chesterfield and Peak Jazz Clubs and as a musician frequently leads the house band backing such visiting musicians as saxophonists Karen Sharp, Alan Barnes and Tony Kofi and guitarists Jim Mullen and Phil Robson.
However it was the release of her 2017 release “Piano Divas” that brought this hitherto ‘unsung heroine of British jazz’ to national attention. This was an album that paid homage to the great female pianist/vocalists of jazz including Diana Krall, Eliane Elias, Blossom Dearie, Nina Simone and Shirley Horn plus lesser known figures such as Dena Derose, Carol Welsman and Tania Maria.
“Piano Divas”, Kirkland’s first recording since 2005’s “To The Top”, attracted the attention of the national jazz press and was widely praised by the critics, the resultant acclaim helping to raise Kirkland’s profile considerably. The “Piano Divas” show has toured widely all over the UK, including a number of appearances at London’s most prestigious jazz clubs.
My review of the “Piano Divas” album can be read here;
Given her hectic touring schedule it’s somewhat surprising, even to me, that tonight was the first time that I’d actually got to see Kirkland perform live. I contrived to miss her 2018 quartet show at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny, one of my regular haunts, because I was covering Cheltenham Jazz Festival at the time. It was left to guest reviewer David Hobbs to pen this very positive review of the “Piano Divas” show;
In July 2019 Kirkland released the album “The Music’s On Me”, the keenly anticipated follow up to “Piano Divas”. Rather than repeating the formula the new album is a more personal offering featuring a greater emphasis on original material with three of the eleven tracks co-written by Kirkland and Sprakes, the latter her husband as well as her guitarist. The original songs reflect the experiences and emotions of being on the road as touring musicians. Elsewhere Kirkland and Sprakes add their own words to the tunes of others, the art of ‘vocalese’ - “some of these melodies were crying out for lyrics, we felt!”, explains Kirkland.
“The Music’s On Me” features an extended line up. Kirkland, Sprakes and Jefferies remain from “Piano Divas” with Steve Wyndham taking over the drum chair. The core quartet is augmented on some pieces by vibraphonist Roger Beaujolais and saxophonist Tommaso Starace.
Kirkland is currently touring the new album, her schedule as punishing as ever. At Kidderminster the core of Kirkland, Sprakes and Jefferies were joined by Beaujolais on vibraphone and Midlands based sticks man Mitch Perrins at the drum kit. The focus was mainly on the material from the new album, but with a few old favourites and a couple of surprises thrown in for good measure.
The quintet commenced with a song from the new album, “Sunday In New York”, written by Peter Nero, a piece that introduced Kirkland’s warm, pure toned, well enunciated vocals. The instrumental solos also demonstrated her abilities as a jazz pianist, she started her jazz career as an instrumentalist before adding singing to her musical armoury. Further instrumental features came from Sprakes on guitar, Beaujolais on vibraphone, and Perrins with a series of crisply brushed drum breaks.
Each season Kidderminster Jazz Club is to have a musical ‘theme’. For this inaugural season that theme is the music of George Gershwin and every act is set to perform a couple of Gershwin songs. Kirkland’s initial choice was a samba style arrangement of “S’Wonderful” with the leader’s breezy vocal performance augmented by solos from herself on piano, Beaujolais on vibes and Sprakes on guitar.
A return to the new album repertoire for Kenny Rankin’s jazz waltz “Haven’t We Met”, tonight complete with apposite allusions to the jazz standard “Here’s That Rainy Day”. Aside from Kirkland’s vocal performance this piece was also notable for her fluent piano soloing and the lively exchanges between Sprakes on guitar and Beaujolais on vibes. As a guitarist Sprakes favours a clean, classic jazz guitar, sound and names Wes Montgomery as his primary influence. His solo here included quotes from Montgomery’s “Full House”, as if to emphasise the point.
The quintet dipped into the “Piano Divas” repertoire for “Some Other Time”, a song that appeared in the movie “On The Town”. Kirkland opened the song solo, accompanying herself on piano before Sprakes joined in to create a duo. Subsequently Jefferies impressed with a bowed bass solo, with further instrumental features coming from Beaujolais on vibes and Kirkland on piano.
Also from the previous album came “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, a song now indelibly associated with Nina Simone. However in a neat twist a new arrangement by Sprakes teamed it with the Al Jarreau song “We’re In This Love Together”. The guitarist also impressed as he soloed above an infectious, and very contemporary sounding, shuffle groove courtesy of Perrins. Beaujolais then dazzled on the vibes, demonstrating his mastery of the four mallet technique. Kirkland herself featured on both piano and scat vocals.
Kirkland delivered the lyrics to the Duke Pearson tune “Sandalia Dela” in Portuguese, her version inspired by a recording by Flora Purim. The Brazilian style rhythms fuelled instrumental solos from Kirkland on piano and Beaujolais on vibes plus Perrin with a closing drum feature. This lively rendition concluded an engaging first set that was well received by the appreciative Kidderminster audience.
The start of the second set found found the quintet returning to the Gershwin theme with a Kirkland and Sprakes’ arrangement of “Fascinating Rhythm”. Inspired by a version recorded by Sarah Vaughan this saw the quintet tackling the song in a variety of different jazz styles with instrumental solos coming from Kirkland, Sprakes, Jefferies, this time playing pizzicato, and Perrins with a series of brushed drum breaks.
One of the more intriguing items on the new album is a version of the late Don Grolnick’s composition “Pools”, to which Kirkland has added her own lyrics, the words inspired by a friend’s house in Italy. Kirkland’s singing was enhanced by some inspired ensemble playing, plus extended solos from the leader on piano and scat vocals and Beaujolais on vibraphone.
Kirkland paid homage to the great American singer and pianist Blossom Dearie with her version of the Bob Dorough / Dave Frishberg song “I’m Hip”, a satire on the typical fifties style hipster or beatnik. Amazingly this was the second time I’d seen this song performed live in a week! Bristol based singer Victoria Klewin had also featured the tune in her Blossom Dearie themed show at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny just a few days earlier.
Like the earlier Don Grolnick composition Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues” represented another of those melodies that Kirkland and Sprakes felt was crying out for a lyric. Their words, a paean to an idealised California lifestyle, were also inspired by the painting of Pat’s father, the artist John Sprakes, particularly his use of colour. Naturally Pat’s guitar featured substantially here alongside Beaujolais’ vibes and Perrins’ drums in this updated version of the sixties jazz classic.
Written in the 1930s by Brooks Bowman “East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon” actually represents a new addition to the Kirkland canon. Inspired by Diana Krall’s version of the song incorporated an extended scat vocal feature alongside instrumental solos from Sprakes and Beaujolais.
Having already featured their lyrics and arrangements Kirkland and Sprakes closed the show with one of their own compositions, the song “Travelling Home”, which also concludes the new album. This good natured reflection on the musical lifestyle and the joy of returning home after a successful gig featured a Metheny like melody and instrumental solos from Sprakes, Beaujolais and Kirkland.
It took little prompting from Annette Gregory for the quintet to remain on stage for a deserved encore, an arrangement of Peggy Lee’s “Love Being Here With You”, as filtered via Diana Krall, that Kirkland always likes to dedicate to her audiences. A splendidly swinging version of the song included features for all five musicians and brought a hugely successful evening to a most satisfactory conclusion.
This was an excellent performance from Kirkland and her colleagues that was musically satisfying and was also presented with warmth and wit by the leader. As well as delivering an assured vocal performance Kirkland also demonstrated her considerable abilities as a jazz piano soloist. The presence of Beaujolais was unexpected and represented a very welcome bonus. He’s a musician who has featured many times on the Jazzmann web pages, both as a leader and as a sideman with artists such as pianist Tim Richards, bassist Davide Mantovani and saxophonist Tommaso Starace.
My thanks to Roger and to Wendy for speaking with me after the show, it was good to meet both of them in person at last.
Most of this evening’s material was sourced from the “The Music’s On Me” album, although the record also includes several pieces not featured in tonight’s performance. These include the Sprakes / Kirkland originals “The Music In Me” and “O Gato Molhado”. The first of these, effectively the title track, is a muso’s song that name-checks Wes Montgomery, but ultimately emphasises the importance of feeling over technique. The second features Brazilian stylings and a playful mix of Kirkland’s own Portuguese and English lyrics.
The ‘vocalese’ items include “September Second”, a moving dedication to a late parent set to a Michel Petrucciani tune that includes a fluent solo from guest saxophonist Tommaso Starace. Then there’s “Playground”, which adds Kirkland’s words to a tune by guitarist Russell Malone, which posits the idea of jazz as a ‘musical playground’. Given that the recorded version includes a twinkling solo from a guesting Beaujolais it was perhaps a little surprising that the piece didn’t feature this evening.
The album also includes a brief but brisk romp through “Nothing Like You”, written by Bob Dorough and Fran Landesman.
Kirkland’s second album isn’t at all ‘difficult’, although it does expand her repertoire and places a greater focus on her original creativity. Once again it has received a highly positive response from the national jazz media.
Meanwhile the “Music’s On Me” tour continues with dates coming up as follows;
11th October, Marsden Jazz Festival – featuring Roger Beaujolais, vibraphone
12th October, Abbot’s Bromley Village Hall
13th October, Breadsall Village Hall
28th October, Bull’s Head, Barnes
6th November, Fougou Music, Brixham
7th November, The Acorn Theatre, Penzance
9th November, Lostwithiel Jazz Café, Duchy of Cornwall Estate
28th November, Grantham Conservative Club
14th December, Chesterfield Library (11:45 a.m.)
More details at http://www.wendykirkland.com
Huge congratulations are also due to Annette Gregory on the successful launch of Kidderminster Jazz Club, which will hopefully establish itself as a substantial presence on the Midlands jazz scene and beyond.
The remaining dates of this first season are as follows;
14th November – Swing From Paris
5th December – Annette Gregory
6th February – Matheus Prado Mato Septet
5th March – Sue Richardson
2nd April – Wyre Forest Big Band
7th May – Alan Barnes
4th June – Tina Mayblog comments powered by Disqus