November 16, 2015

Last Friday I went to the London Jazz Festival’s Jazz Voice concert, celebrating the singer and the song, at the Barbican.

Elaine Delmar, Liv Warfield, Joe Stilgoe, Jarrod Lawson, Becca Stevens, and Nicki Wells with Nitin Sawhney, Foxes and Rebecca Ferguson joined the Guy Barker Orchestra.

Standouts of the night for me included American R&B singer, Liv Warfield. Apparently, mentored by Prince, her stage presence was crazily great. In the first set, she belted out Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” with such commitment and energy, I felt the emotion coursing through my veins. In the second set she gave an incredible performance of Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow”.

The other standout, in my opinion, was Nicki Wells, who was accompanied by Nitin Sawhney. She sang “God Bless the Child” and an original called, “Dark Day”, written by Sawhney.

I have spent a lot of time googling Wells over the last few days. Her rich tones completely drew me in. And I was fascinated by her command of the Indian classical scales – ragas.

I found myself feeling a pang for my aunt who is a superlative classical Indian singer. And though I sat with her on many an occasion when I was little, I never felt the desire to learn and sing Indian classical music in any depth.

Here’s a video I particularly liked of Nicki Wells performing with Nitin Sawhney:

What was interesting to me from the outset was apart from Elaine Delmar, whose rendition of “Tea for Two” was beautifully haunting, and Joe Stilgoe – the other singers performing weren’t “Jazz singers” as such. So there were times when I found myself anticipating phrasing and melodic lines I was expecting to hear that didn’t come – not a criticism merely an observation.

The surprise of the night for me was Rebecca Ferguson. I suppose being associated with the “X -Factor” has coloured my viewpoint a little. But her delivery was rich and textured. She sang “Why don’t you do right?” which was apparently called “Weed Smoker’s dream” when it was first written. Ferguson’s version was upbeat and edgy –I loved it.

The instrumental interludes though were the absolute highlight, in my opinion – which is a bit weird as the concert was celebrating the “Jazz Voice”. But as someone who listens to lots of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, you could say their Jazz voices were as relevant as those of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald?

The orchestral feature opened the second set and paid homage to the New York jazz club, The Village Vanguard. Barker’s arrangement, “Live at the Village Vanguard”, drew together music by John Coltrane, Thad Jones, Jimmy Heath, Bobby Timmons and Bill Evans.

Guy Barker’s arrangements were stunning – layered and interesting. Though his tribute to Frank Sinatra felt a little cheesy to me. But I was definitely in the minority as most of the audience on their feet swaying to New York, New York.

And before Joe Stilgoe’s version of Lush Life, we were told Guy Barker thought it is the best song ever written…I’m afraid I disagree…

But I am quibbling here as the euphoria of live music prevailed – two and half hours disappeared in a flash and I went home feeling fulfilled and sated.



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