Duncan Lamont 80th Birthday Celebration
(Leicester Square Theatre, part of Art of Song Festival, 15th April 2011, review by Frank Griffith. Photo credit: Roger Thomas )
Duncan Lamont is a rare bird. A jazz tenor sax player who writes lyrics. Good ones. His songs accomplish that elusive target of a happy marriage between music and lyrics. His lyrics are often in homage to great American song titles and places. He follows in the tradition set by Kern, Gershwin, Ellington, Mandel, Dearie and Bricusse,et al.
His role at this concert – in the inaugural Art of Song Festival – was a wide-ranging one: narrator, introducer, general cheerleader, and celebrant of his own birthday (actual date 4th July). The nineteen songs, performed by three of the UK’s finest, Tina May, Lee Gibson and Norma Winstone, were the true stars of the show. There were some suites, of sorts, in the way of a New York Medley (four songs at the outset) and an equally charming triptych of Kenny Wheeler songs with lyrics by his longtime collaborant and friend, Duncan.
Lee Gibson was first out of the blocks, tall and elegant, bedecked in a glitteringly dark long gown. Her somewhat veiled and smoky voice is offset by her ability to dramatize and excite. Her rendition of “52nd Street” (NYC’s famed Bebop 1940s locale) was delivered with a cultured ease and understatement – she knows precisely how to put an audience at its ease.
Next up was Tina May (bove), also fully gowned up with a streak of glitter highlighting a bold yet subtle bracelet on her left wrist which shone and resonated throughout the large theatre much like her mane of beautiful blonde hair that only helped to set the scene for her equally stunning singing to follow. Her treatments of “Where were you in April” and “Hymm for Jobim” were a testament to unfettered poise and poetry with her honeyed voice and crafting.
Longtime collaborator of Duncan’s, the eminent Norma Winstone, sporting a springlike melange of reds and yellows in the form of a dress adjoined by a welcome bright red jumper wooed the audience with her tender readings of three Kenny Wheeler songs lyricised by Duncan. She was joined by the great composer himself, who while needing assistance alighting and dismounting the stage proved the point that “Doctor Footlights” has amazing powers as, once the flugelhorn touched his lips, beautiful, healthy and impassioned music poured forth. Wheeler’s songs brought about a nice compositional change of seasons with their harmonic richness and searching melodicism wedded with Lamont’s words.
Vocalist David McAlmont lent the evening a distinctive contrast with his reading of “The darker side of the rainbow” – dedicated to Judy Garland – showing off his shining falsetto voice. Not to be outdone in the fashion stakes either, his tempered brown suit also included a hint of glitter (red tie in this case) and went well with his poised, touching and simply brilliant delivery of this haunting song. Resembling what could have been a young Billy Strayhorn, this was clearly a high point of the evening with echoes of 1950s New York or Paris cafe society culture.
Many plaudits to the trio led by pianist, Brian Dee, an ideal accompanist with his lyrical and understated manner. His ability to guide the singers through these challenging songs while keeping a steady and comforting eye on his rhythm boys poses the question- who says men can’t multitask?
Bassist to the stars, Chris Laurence, has played with nearly everybody and as his performance demonstrated, no surprise there. His accompanying is full of a dancing melodicism that never overextends or interferes but in fact colours the backdrop in his unique and flavoursome fashion. This is equally balanced with solid time and and his role as chief executive of all things in the “nether regions” (basso profundo) of the ensemble.
The ebullience and professionalism of veteran drummer, Les Cirkel is always evident when he takes the throne. “Driving the bus” as they say, at an even keel while goading and sparking soloists throughout providing a necessary pinch of drama and excitement.
Duncan Lamont already had his hands full with compering, etc, so his melodic and sometimes quirky tenor sax solos were a tremendous bonus. He is a true Rennasaince Man- tenorist, composer, lyricist and imminent octogenarian. Long may he, his singers and music thrive. And may the Art of Song Festival – imaginatively programmed by Joe Paice and Dave Shepherd – return stronger in years to come.
Tina May has an upcoming CD with the Frank Griffith Big Band on the HEPJAZZ label entitled “Holland Park Non Stop”.