The concluding track on Tessa Souter‘s recent album Obsession, ‘Usha’s Wedding’, neatly encapsulates her artistic strengths: the ability to imbue everything she sings with ingenuous sincerity, a keen ear for a simple but deeply affecting melody, a genuine rapport with her bandmates.
On this occasion, a performance with the Nikki Iles trio in front of an attentive, highly supportive audience, she blended her soulful vocal with that of her drummer, Winston Clifford, to produce a touching version of the song she originally wrote to celebrate the wedding of a photographer friend, Richard Conde, to the eponymous Usha. Obsession also provided four other standout pieces: Paul McCartney’s dramatically emotive evocation of perseverance in the face of loneliness, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, Nick Drake’s hypnotic ‘Riverman’. a clever mix of the Mongo Santamaria/Oscar Brown Jr classic ‘Afro Blue’ with Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ and the album’s striking title-track itself, but Souter is a skilful selector of songs from all parts of the musical world, so she also visited the American Songbook and the work of contemporary songwriters (Sting’s ‘Fragile’) in two hour-long sets.
Some of the Songbook selections were taken from an album Souter made with pianist/arranger Kenny Werner, Nights of Key Largo – Jimmy Dorsey/Paul Madeira’s ‘I’m Glad There is You’, the dreamy Bacharach/David classic ‘The Look of Love’ (sensitively de-bossa’ed), the Altman/Lawrence Sinatra vehicle ‘All or Nothing at All’ – but there was also a visit to Cole Porter (‘Night and Day’) which, while its slightly up-tempo treatment compromised the song’s languorous, yearning quality, was none the less an effective showcase for the assured, intimate Souter voice. Iles’s trio, completed by bassist Mark Hodgson, provided discreet but supple support throughout, Iles herself characteristically unshowy but cogent in her solo spots, and Clifford brisk and delicate by turns, showing his resourcefulness at one point by playing tuned bottles perilously perched on his snare drum.
Souter is shortly to record with Steve Kuhn in New York (where she now lives); the resultant album, on this showing, should be well worth investigating.
Tessa Souter’s blog “Anything I Can Do You Can Do Better” is mightily, unreservedly recommended