The “HOUSE FULL” sign outside Ronnie Scott’s is showing distinct signs of wear and tear. The club’s second early August BritJazz Festival, like the first, has been a complete sell-out every night. From Managing Director Simon Cooke’s tone of voice, it sounds as if he can’t yet force himself to believe it. The crowd last night for Carol Grimes and Mike Westbrook’s Village Band included some tourists, but both bands also brought out a loyal and supportive following, notably Carol Grimes’ students, choir members and workshoppers.
In Carol Grimes the tourists will have got the authentic sound of London. Grimes deploys a range of accents from cockney sparra (This is a song wo’ I ri’ in in the Iygh’ies, De’ford ‘Igh Stree’) to clearly enunciated BBC RP Alvar Liddell (particularly when repeatedly savouring every consonant and aspirate in the phrase “Annie White-Head”)
She brought a wonderful range of songs, all great material. Highlights were “Steps,” a song about disembodiment, populated by, inter alia, ghosts under beds. Pianist Dorian Ford rocked the delicate harmonies gently back and forth in a piano interlude, and Max De Wardener was decisive and clear on bass. Oscar Brown Jr.’s “But I was Cool” was a theatrical tour de force. “A Tree and Me” slipped deliciously in and out of wacky eroticism. Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace’s “Scars” brought out the Piaf power which resonated round the club. “The Dance” had Grimes driving the rhythm with a gesticulating and Ella-style-hip-slapping left hand. Winston Clifford had faultless volume control in every song, and Grimes also complimented him on his gifts as backing singer. His way of finding and matching her phrasing can, she ventured, only be explained by some kind of magic. Annie Whitehead is, as Londonjazz readers know, perfect.
Mike Westbrook’s Village Band left the best of its series of dramatic twists for last. Neal Hefti’s Li’l Darling, played as an encore, was a simply beautiful way to end. Poised and controlled, the five other instruments provided a made-to-measure jewel case for Mike Brewer ‘s pellucid flugelhorn tone. A shame, then, that a lot of people had already left the club. Mike Westbrook will ALWAYS spring a surprise: they missed a real treat.
The piece before it, the main course, was Waxeywork Show. This was a lengthy piece, dwelling on the juxtaposition of the Victorian Fairground and the Worldwide Web, packing a punchy polemic against, for example, cybersurveillance and superficiality. But only Mike Westbrook would have the sideways imagination as a composer to even attempt to set the crashing of the world’s computers to music. On first hearing, this was the most effective part of the work, which is a piece probably better suited to the concert hall.
As ever, the range of Westbrook’s writing and arranging was a joy to hear. A New Orleans funeral, a Monk tune, a Blake setting – sensitively sung by Kate Westbrook, Tadd Dameron’s If you could see me now, originally written for Sarah Vaughan. So much to enjoy.
Ronnie Scott’s BritJazz Festival has two more nights to run, and is sold out.