Liane Carroll erupts on to the stage. She must be everybody’s idea of a jazz singer –large in person and personality, with plenty of décolleté and plenty to say. But she’s not just a singer, she’s a very talented jazz pianist too. I saw her at a concert that was one of the climaxes of the very entertaining Oxford Jazz Festival, held at the North Wall in Summertown. It’s a friendly venue that felt warm and cosy, especially as it was filled with 120 adoring fans, ready to see the line up of Liane, her bass guitarist husband, Roger Carey and drummer, Mark Fletcher.
She began to play and sing with little introduction, and from bar one she was confidently at full tilt with What Now my Love. She improvised a few bars of Happy Birthday in the middle of it, which had me intrigued, until she later announced it was Mark’s 50th birthday that day. Then she rolled and rocked into two more standards including That Old Devil Moon before she paused and cackled, ‘I didn’t know how to stop!’
The audience were on her side immediately, feeding off her energy. At times, for me, Liane did seem like a relentlessly cheerful children’s entertainer – throwing out jokes and anecdotes in an easy manner. Her face was never still and she opened her mouth wide and threw her head back to laugh. Sometimes she bent forward intently over the keyboard and disappeared under her long dark fringe. She certainly gives her all, faithfully.
And what a voice. She has formidable technique- trampolining from low to high notes or skiing back down. She has light and shade, colour and novelty in her sound. In You’ve changed she often found three distinct notes in the word ‘changed’. It’s awesome and her energy is palpable. Plug her in and power the National Grid. But there were moments when I wanted her to hold back just a bit with the curlicues and embellishments: I could have done with the Janis Ian song At Seventeen being sung just a little more straight and a little more simple.
I enjoyed the second half more because I think Liane did too. She came back, clutching her accustomed pint, saying she’d met lots of old friends in the interval and began to generously dedicate songs to them. To me, she seemed at her most authentic in bluesy numbers like Billie Holiday’s Fine and Mellow. Occasionally she had a little respite, supping her pint, whilst her acolytes worked up the head of steam. It certainly felt like there were more than three musicians on stage. The tempo was generally upbeat although she did sing Tom Waits’ Picture in Frame. At the end she got us to join in Carole King’s You’ve got a Friend, which we all did happily. She’s a consummate performer but, maybe, she also likes to keep a bit of the pain behind a quip.
When it came to that time of – will she, won’t she, do an encore? – I liked her no nonsense ‘I’m not going to go off to come on again, that’s rubbish!’ The valedictory song was Bye Bye Blackbird and she scatted away, almost into a yodel…quite an ending. We’re lucky to have such talent that’s all ours and British-made.
Photo: Morris Benjamin