Review: Haiti Benefit at Vortex

Haiti Benefit
(Vortex, March 18th 2010,

Review and photo of Christine Tobin and Dave Whitford by Patrick Hadfield)

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Kevin Le Gendre, the journalist and presenter who had organised the Vortex’s benefit for Haiti in the aftermath of January’s earthquake, got it right: the evening wasn’t just about the music. It was about supporting the people of Haiti, and helping them rebuild their society.

Le Gendre pointed out how much Haiti had given to jazz – the musicians and the rhythms; and this was his way of giving something back.

And the four sets which I managed to see certainly gave a lot. First up was the Mantra Collective, a quintet blending eastern rhythms from their tabla player, jazz from the drums, guitar and bass of their rhythm section, and a cello. A strange mix, it blended perfectly. The guitar added more Eastern flavour producing sitar-like tones. The bass featured heavily – a seven string electric bass just adding to the unorthodox instrumentation – but it had a lovely, natural tone.

They were followed by Vortex regular, vocalist Christine Tobin, in a trio with Phil Robson on guitar and Dave Whitford on bass. They played a gutsy, folk-infused set. Tobin has a great voice, and to her credit she doesn’t use it to try and sound American: her singing comes from the heart, and from her own tradition.

Robson stayed onstage for the next band, Partisans; so for the second time in a week, I saw Julian Siegel , whose playing had a completely different feel to his outing with Jason Palmer. His tenor playing had more heat to it, and as well tenor, Siegel played bass clarinet, producing a mournful, melancholic blues feel. Robson’s guitar playing stepped up a gear, too.

After the interval, pianist Robert Mitchell played a great solo set. His music seemed jazzier, bluesier than his last solo outing. His playing is intense and hypnotic, creating powerful music; there is clearly a classical influence in there as well.

I had to leave before Abram Wilson played. I’m hoping, dreaming that he will have included a version of Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song”, from which the evening took its title. Because Wilson hails from New Orleans, which has suffered from its own natural disaster. Wilson also has deep grounding in jazz tradition.
Mingus said about “Haitian Fight Song” It has a folk spirit, the kind of folk music I’ve always heard anyway… I can’t play it right unless I’m thinking about prejudice and persecution, and how unfair is it. There’s sadness and cries in it, but also determination. And it usually ends with my feeling ‘I told them! I hope somebody heard me!’”

The bands at the Vortex communicated their sadness and their determination. A completely full house showed its involvement, empathy and appreciation.

It has been announced that the Vortex gig raised around £2,000 for the Red Cross Haiti appeal. You can still contribute to the appeal.

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