Review: London Vocal Project at Ronnie Scott’s

London Vocal Project with Kenny Wheeler (left) and Pete Churchill (right)

London Vocal Project
(Ronnie Scott’s, 1st June 2014. Review by Michael Underwood) 

The London Vocal Project’s latest outing, following on from the recent success of their Kenny Wheeler album Mirrors, was a lunchtime gig at Ronnie Scott’s. Pete Churchill has just been in New York visiting the legendary jazz singer Jon Hendricks, who has now reached the formidable age of 92. They are collaborating on a project putting Gil Evans’ orchestrations on the Miles Davis album Miles Ahead into a choral setting. The new music, direct from this eagerly anticipated collaboration, and being performed in public for the first time, formed the second set.

A delightfully animated bright swing tune called Sand Man kicked off the set, followed by a lyric Jon Hendricks has put to the well-known Neal Hefti tune Lil Darlin.Three songs, The Maids of Cadiz, The Duke and My Ship were also performed. They will form part of a new 10-piece suite.

The rhythm section provided a strong base for the choir to deliver Jon Hendricks’ lyrics whilst Anita Wardell’s voice was allowed to float effortlessly over the top. The choir really tapped into the iconic Gil Evans sound, whilst drummer Steve Brown’s impeccable brush-work could be heard alongside ingeniously arranged bass triplet fills. The final piece in this triptych, Kurt Weill’s My Ship, delivered deliciously juicy harmonies and displayed the fabulous blend of the choir with Anita Wardell’s voice.

Stolen Moments (with lyrics by Mark Murphy) which enabled the choir to showcase some fine ensemble singing. Gershwin’s Summertime wrapped up this highly enjoyable gig, once again the choir producing a refined sound, whilst Anita Wardell contributed another highly engaging solo followed by a comedic scat solo from Pete Churchill.

The gig had earlier featured compositions by Kenny Wheeler. A setting of the Stevie Steve poem My Soul featured Helen Burnett. Burnett is a brilliant story-teller, with the choir providing a masterclass in delivering backings at the perfect dynamic. Sam Chaplin’s thoughtful and well-crafted flugel solo flowed over this hauntingly mysterious atmosphere. In the Langston Hughes setting Jazzonia, a melancholy double bass and left hand piano groove displayed Steve Watts’ unmistakable precision and warm sound.

Nikki Iles’ piano playing was a delight. Throughout the gig she played with delicacy and beautiful restraint, providing the most tasteful of solos. A rarely exploited texture is that of choir backings under a solo. LVP have mastered this texture and use it to great effect.

Among the songs from a project which Pete Churchill undertook with the late Steve Gray and South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, Blue Bolero brought to the fore the skilful accordion playing of Richard Lake. He is just one example of a member of LVP who doesn’t just lend his voice to an incredible choir, but also a particular instrumental colour. All of the members are in their own right great instrumentalists, songwriters, composers, arrangers and teachers.

Steve Swallow’s composition City of Dallas evokes the view from a window on the 15th floor of a hotel. Brendan Dowse displayed great fluency on harmonica, whilst alto Sophie Smith beautifully presented colloquial lines such as ‘stuff in it’, making the audience chuckle.

LVP are an outstanding choir of extremely talented musicians. Experts in dynamic control and presentation, they never fail to communicate joy.

Sopranos: Helen Burnett, Katie Butler, Ayesha Pike, Jo Richards, Andi Hopgood, Joy Ellis.
Altos: Chloe Potter, Emmy Urquhart, Sophie Smith, Jess Dowdeswell, Lilli Unwin, Nikki Franklin.
Tenors: Richard Lake, Dominic Stitchbury, Samuel Chaplin, Adam Saunders, Crawford McInally-Kier.
Basses: Pete Churchill, Patrick Soul, Brendan Dowse, Andy Woolf, Adam Speirs.

Directed by Pete Churchill.
Guest Vocalist – Anita Wardell
Piano – Nikki Iles
Bass – Steve Watts
Drums (second set) – Steve Brown
Percussion (first set)- Andres Ticino

Categories: miscellaneous

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