Review: Salena Jones

Review: Salena Jones
(Ronnie Scott’s , October 5th 2009. Review by Frank Griffith)

American vocalist Salena Jones made a triumphant return to Ronnie Scott’s on Monday, backed by the stellar Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra led by pianist and MD, James Pearson.

The band personnel included veterans such as trumpeter, Tony Fisher, alto saxist, Adrian Revell as well as young upstarts like Freddie “Fire” Gavita, trumpet and Sam Mayne also on alto sax. The programme included a healthy mix of 1970s pop songs – Hello and Just the way you are – as well as a sprinkling of more traditional standards like The Touch of Your Lips and Days of Wine and Roses.

Jones, petite and elegant in white (for the first set, anyway) did a fair amount of waving to various parts of the nearly full house while mentioning her previous long-standing engagements at the fabled club. There is a firm and poised quietude to her voice and delivery as well as her stage presence. Free of histrionics or gratuitous melisma, her rich contralto rings true through the styles in an understated manner.
Also noticeable was the playful, bordering on provocative visual banter between her and MD Pearson during some of the songs. Particular highlights included a tasty bossa nova treatment of Brook Bowman’s East Of The Sun with engaging harmonic richness coupled with lush textures utilising flutes, mutes and clarinets especially noteworthy in an ensemble chorus following Jones’ vocal.

The Billie Holiday classic, You’ve Changed medleyed up with Monk’s Round Midnight was tendered beautifully by a trio backing. A somewhat odd choice of inserting Round Midnight at the end of the bridge (middle section) of You’ve Changed might have took the listener by surprise at first but the remaining stanzas were added on after the completion of a chorus of the Monk classic. Alls well ends well. A rousing flag waver arrangement of a 1960s gem, Moment of Truth completed the set, and sent audience and band – not so gently- into that good night.

The band was especially on fire in the the second set with roaring versions of the Tower of Power funkamonial What is Hip alongside a Buddy Rich feature on Love For Sale (arranged by transplanted Brit, Pete Myers) both of which spotlighting the versatile and rock solid drumming of Chris Dagley. Top solo work was in evidence throughout by Fred Gavita, angular trombonist, Dave Williamson, and the strident Jamie Anderson, alongside the more cool and foo fooey Lester Young-isms of Richard Shepherd on tenor saxes.

Most of the arrangements were by Keith Mansfield, a towering figure of British big band and TV themes having got his start writing and producing for Canadian trumpeter, Maynard Ferguson, in the late 1960s for a series of albums for Columbia. While announcing him to the crowd at the end Salena also added that she is now Mrs Mansfield – they were married in January. A most musical match in every aspect and lets hope that its not another 20 years before their next visit to this venerable Soho jazz institution.

Frank Griffith

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