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Jazz Voice, London Jazz Festival, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Jazz Voice, London Jazz Festival, Barbican

Jazz Voice, London Jazz Festival, Barbican

Brilliant singing, but Guy Barker's high-spec arrangements steal the show

Noisettes lead singer Shingai Shoniwa, the surprise hit of Jazz VoiceTom Bunning

It would be difficult to imagine a more impressive curtain-raiser to the London Jazz Festival than Jazz Voice, and this year's vintage was the finest yet. One sensed from the very opening bars of Gregory Porter and Ian Shaw's a cappella duet, “Feelin' Good”, that something remarkable was about to unfold, and so it proved. Drawing on major anniversaries, birthdays and milestones that link the decades stretching back from 2011, the annual vocal extravaganza – hosted this year by Victoria Wood – featured a typically adventurous mix of singers from the worlds of jazz, pop and soul.

With spine-tingling accounts of “Love for Sale” and “Strange Fruit”, British vocalist, cellist and composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson effortlessly revealed why she became the first non-American to win the legendary Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Norma Winstone's brace of songs presented the sorrowing chromaticisms of “A Timeless Place” and, with phrasing and attention to lyrics that sometimes took the breath away, “Everybody's Talking at Me”.

Ian Shaw showed his playful side in “My Favourite Things”, paying homage to fellow jazz singer Liane Carroll in one of his self-penned couplets, and his vulnerable side in a tender interpretation of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most”. The latter is a song which Shaw is deeply familiar with, having recorded it on his 1995 album Ghost Songs, and Shaw enabled Fran Landesman's terrific lyrics to resonate with an unusual power.

Exchanging the set of Downton Abbey for the Barbican stage, Michelle Dockery channelled Peggy Lee in nicely understated takes on “Sans souci” (for which Lee penned the lyrics) and “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” (a song especially associated with Lee). Harpist and singer Lucinda Belle's interpretation of “Candy” possessed a kind of fairy-tale magic that was surprisingly touching and provided a neat counterpoint to the sassy strut of the second set's “I Don't Know”.

This was followed in the second set by one of the great vocal performances of the year

Featuring his immaculate legato, Gregory Porter gave an unerringly moving performance of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”. This was followed in the second set by one of the great vocal performances of the year, the brilliant, self-penned “1960 What?” from Porter's Grammy-nominated debut album, Water. The singer's resonant baritone is one of music's wonders. Porter had to hotfoot it straight to Ronnie Scott's for a late-night Jazz on 3 session.

Mary Pearce injected some soul power into the proceedings with Stevie Wonder's “Bad Weather” and was even more impressive in an irresistible take on “Save Your Love for Me”. With terrifically atmospheric performances of “Love Me or Leave Me” and Sam Cooke's “A Change is Gonna Come”, Shingai Shoniwa, lead singer of London-based indie band Noisettes, proved to be the evening's surprise hit.

Barker brought the entire spectrum of his arranging skills to bear

Scored and conducted by trumpeter/composer Guy Barker, the arrangements really were the star of this year's show. Performed by the 40-piece London Jazz Festival Orchestra, Barker's charts shimmered with textural detail, from glacial violin harmonics and rippling harp lines to luxuriant layers of muted trumpets and rakishly growling trombones. Barker brought the entire spectrum of his arranging skills to bear on his stunning orchestral tributes to Roy Eldridge (“Little Jazz”) and Impulse! Records, the latter a 10-minute medley of themes associated with the label including a masterly “Naima”. Featuring the whole ensemble, Louis Armstrong's “What a Wonderful World” provided a fitting send-off.

Now in its 19th year, this year's London Jazz Festival presents an amazing 280 gigs in over 50 venues across the capital. Over the 10 days you can catch everything from iconic elder statesmen - McCoy Tyner, Ornette Coleman, Roy Haynes, Henry Threadgill, Archie Shepp – to the contemporary grooves of Beats & Pieces, Soul Rebels Brass Band, Phronesis and more, to yet more fabulous vocalists including the aforementioned Liane Carroll, Gretchen Parlato, Cleveland Watkiss and Christine Tobin. There's also a chance to see one of the music's true originals, the great Brazilian multi-instrumentalist, Hermeto Pascoal.

In addition to the exciting programme of commissions, premieres, masterclasses and workshops, there are dozens of free events at the Southbank Centre, Ray's Jazz at Foyles, Barbican Freestage and elsewhere. For iPhone, iPad and Android users, the festival has its own free app that enables you to browse events, book tickets and post photos on the festival website. Enjoy!

Barker's charts shimmered with textural detail, from glacial violin harmonics and rippling harp lines to luxuriant layers of muted trumpets and rakishly growling trombones


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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