thu 19/10/2017

Norah Jones, Ronnie Scott's review - heartfelt music that transcends bland | reviews, news & interviews

Norah Jones, Ronnie Scott's review - heartfelt music that transcends bland

Norah Jones, Ronnie Scott's review - heartfelt music that transcends bland

Dinner party music with country soul

Norah - not Snorah

When we were at peak Norah a decade ago, she looked rather intimidated by the large crowds at venues like the Forum. Having been suddenly catapulted into the limelight she looked nervous, lacked any real stage charisma and her so-so band looked like the kind of musicians you’d find in an average bar in Brooklyn, competent rather than anything remarkable. Her recent Day Breaks, was something of a return to the style of her first multi-million selling album 2002’s Come Away With Me, and to see her back playing a smaller venue like Ronnie Scott’s was a treat.

She looked and sounded comfortable in her skin playing piano in this more intimate environment with a couple of top notch musicians to make up her trio  Brian Blade on drums and Chris Thomas on bass (Blade, for example, has been a rock of Wayne Shorter’s band for years). Jones is no piano virtuoso, but is more than good enough to present her songs  mostly jazz-pop with a dose of country. All three musicians wisely kept to only minimal embellishments of the songs  no flashy solos or jazzy runs to be heard all night. 

It was like having some rich box of chocolates, delicious to start with but sometimes too much of a sugar rush

Jones has often been sometimes dismissed as bland dinner party music. A younger Sade. It's true that in the audience were numerous couples whom, if you had to guess, you might think were middle-managers from suburbia, whose children might well have been conceived to her music. But her ability to reach way beyond a jazz or hipster audience is her strength. At her best, she performs songs which are direct and heartfelt, like “After the Fall”. A number like “Sinkin’ Soon” has a cabaret element, which echoes Kurt Weill and, like Weil, suggests decadence and contemporary political resonance.

Unlike many of the great female singers from Janis to Amy to Billie, she doesn’t totally put herself out there, holding something back in reserve. But remembering how they ended up, her more collected and cool art may well be the more sensible approach. She was dressed in a sober black number, with a few sparkles on it, which mirrored the music.

She played several songs from Day Breaks, the title song a highlight, with the driving beat of “Flip Side” sounding like a 1970s film soundtrack raising the energy levels. She was less convincing with her JJ Cale cover “Don’t Go to Strangers” which added little to the original, and “It’s a Tragedy” lacked dynamism with its endlessly repeated title line. Her version of Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine", where she breathily hummed the melody, was a much more effective cover.

From her first album, “Nightingale” was a spare but gorgeous classic, while the encore, her smash single “I Don't Know Why” was slightly perfunctory. If seeing her close up was a treat, it was like having a rich box of chocolates, delicious to start with but sometimes too much of a sugar rush. But if her music at times flirts with blandness, she knows what she does best  simple, elegant songs with a dash of country blues to keep them real.

@PeterCulshaw

Her ability to reach way beyond a jazz or hipster audience is her strength

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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