REVIEW: Sarah Mckenzie Quartet at Pizza Express

Sarah Mackenzie

Sarah Mackenzie Quartet 
(Pizza Express, 24th June 2015, Second Night of two. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

 By the end of this summer, Sarah Mackenzie should have played for around 35,000 people on a series of dates in Europe. The 27-year old Australian singer/pianist will, for example, have played on the quatorze juillet at Juan-les-Pins, and also been the opening act for Jamie Cullum at the Schlossplatz in Stuttgart. The magazine covers will surely follow, when her next album comes out later in the year.

On the strength of last night, the second of two at Pizza Express, she has the personality, the musicality, the songs and the band not just make a success of this, but to build on it. She has won awards in Australia, been actively  encouraged and mentored by James Morrison, studied at Berklee in Boston, on a full scholarship. The traffic lights for this career are all on green.

For those who follow jazz, the resonances of Diana Krall in her “errand girl for rhythm” days in the 1990’s are apparent. Mackenzie gets dug in to the hard swing tradition of Oscar Peterson/Ray Brown, and it’s infectiously foot-tapping. She has a strong, characterful voice, knows how to bandlead, it’s  pretty much the complete package.

Her own compositions also show a deep, happy, natural absorption of the tradition. That’s It, I Quit is a child of the Blossom Dearie/Dave Frishberg family. Quoi, quoi, quoi sounded like a few healthy and energetic lengths (of front crawl – sorry can’t resist) in Jobim’s Waters of March. It will be fascinating to watch what direction she is headed. If I wanted to quibble, it is that the story/narrative arc/ guiding through songs could be stronger, but that is something which is bound to develop.

And the band are strong. Drummer Gregory Hutchinson, who now lives in Rome, in particular, was a constant inspiration. His early days were with Betty Carter and Ray Brown, then in the Joshua Redman quartet. He is now 45, and hearing him again was a complete joy. (biography here)The subtlety and variety of his attack. delay, texture, shimmer, silence, rim, sticks, brush could have mesmerized me for many more hours, and looking at the other bandmembers’ smiles in his direction I wasn’t alone. The mere word “tango” seemed to set him off in a particularly creative direction. Bassist Tom Farmer is a fine player at the top of his game, and Jo Caleb also thrives on the variety, and took his featured slot in Moon River allowing those bottom Bb’s and A’s of the seventh string on his guitar to ring out.

A happy gig, an exciting prospect, a story which will develop.

Categories: miscellaneous

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