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Review: Deborah Brown

Deborah Brown. Photo from kcjazzlark

Deborah Brown
(Pizza Express Dean Street, first night of three. Review by Sarah Ellen Hughes.)

What a voice. Kansas City-born Deborah Brown is billed as “simply one of the greatest jazz singers in the world.” I have to say I totally agree. She got it right from the start. Charismatic, confident, becoming and thoughtful, she addressed the audience wittily and with ease.

After an instrumental, Rodgers and Hart’s My Romance, she and the trio (Barry Green, piano, Jeremy Brown, bass and Stephen Keogh, drums) opened with Wonderful World. It was a totally honest delivery, with so much body and tone. It’s wonderful to hear a singer scatting with lyrical integrity and developing musical ideas, not just producing bop-lick after bop-lick.

The set was full of creatively arranged standards – an unusually re-harmonised Mood Indigo was her nod to Duke Ellington. She’s clearly capable of belting a note or two, but she delivered this with understated grace and subtlety.

She has utter control of her instrument. She doesn’t just automatically sing, but thinks about which twists and turns and felicitations will fit the mood, lyrics and feel of the song. Thus each song is different. This was reflected right down to the scatting – which didn’t showcase all her ideas and range in one song. Each solo was highly individual, crafted for each individual melody.

On Devil May Care, Deborah and bassist Jeremy Brown took an extended chorus together. Here she really ripped it up and we were treated to a range nearing 3 octaves alongside an explosive treatment of the tune. They repeated this duet situation later, and again to great effect, in I’m Satisfied, proof that you can never have too much of a good thing.

Another notable arrangement was that of What Is This Thing Called Love – a tune which most people (NYJO notably!) play or sing at fast-as-we- can, see-you-at-the-end tempo. But the original manuscript for this song has the direction “slow and tortured,” which makes sense, considering the lyrics are all about the desperation felt after someone has left you for another. So thank goodness for singers like Deborah Brown, who gave it a Caravan-type vibe and a much slower delivery than is commonly employed.

The highlight for me was a moving In a Sentimental Mood – which everyone was talking about afterwards – a delicious interpretation of the tune, and the sort of thing Dexter Gordon might have played.

It’s a great shame the house wasn’t full – although there was a star-studded audience with the likes of Ian Shaw and Tina May in attendance. Deborah Brown is on again tonight, and there are two shows on Saturday. Go! She’s worth it.

deborahbrownjazz.compizzaexpresslive.co.uk

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