|Lindsey Webster. Photo credit: Lucy Kissick|
(Le Caprice Martell Jazz Sessions, August 30th 2015. Review by Andrew Cartmel)
American singer Lindsey Webster and her longtime associate, pianist and arranger Keith Slattery, are here for the first time in the UK. Webster’s CV includes performing backing vocals for Donald Fagen and Slattery’s pedigree involves playing keyboards for notable soul acts as well as playing and engineering for Kanye West.
The yearning sway of Lindsey Webster’s vocals start wordlessly then gradually take shape as Summertime, with Keith Slattery’s ripe, rolling piano chords like the jumping of the fish in the song. Webster has a strong, deep voice with an affecting rawness, stretching phrases and promising considerable power in reserve. There’s a hint of torment in there, too, an essential ingredient shared with great soul and blues singers — and which speaks to the underlying text of the Gershwin lyrics. Slattery shows a strong stride influence in his piano playing here. His barrel roll barrage of a solo inspires Lindsey Webster to punch out a powerful second chorus, pushing the vocals towards scat abstraction. She belts the song out with smooth, tremendous force, Keith Slattery providing a rainbow shower of colours behind her.
Impressively, Lindsey Webster is not just a singer but a songwriter. Her new CD consists entirely of originals composed with Slattery, and Fool Me Once is one of these. It’s a sudden shift to the urban after the rural beauties of Summertime and an opportunity for Slattery to build more complex structures in his playing, with shimmering crystalline descents, and to generally show what he can do. Lindsey Webster is more incisive and heartfelt now, concisely funky, wailing. The song draws to a beautiful, succinct, understated ending.
Aretha Franklin’s classic (You Make Me Fell Like) A Natural Woman is rightly performed as a husky, sultry and raw R&B number with a great, pungent soulful punch from Lindsey Webster, aided and abetted by Keith Slattery’s potent comping. Webster effortlessly and fearlessly soars to the top notes. We’re in an Atlantic Records stratosphere here, with contrails of piano streaking the clear blue sky. Webster sings fantastic, sustained, fervent whoops — she has a great voice. Hip, with a tender streak.
A stunning version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow includes the seldom heard opening verse. Yip Harburg’s lyrics are beautifully served with soaring vocals seeming to literally go over that rainbow, accompanied by Slattery’s lilting raindrop piano, all drawing to a combustible conclusion. Bleed is another original, a heartfelt, touching number, with the searching emotion of the vocals matched by the refined delicacy of the piano. If Keith Slattery’s playing suggested James P. Johnson before, now it reflects Ravel and Debussy. Tell Me Something Good by Stevie Wonder receives a sly, soulful, boastful treatment, challenging and sexy. Slattery evokes another Keith here — Jarrett, with the shining structure of his piano playing lilting and gleaming under the seductive confidence of Lindsey Webster’s eloquent, bragging vocals.
I Will Always Love You comes from Dolly Parton by way of Whitney Houston and it receives a knockout rendition. Lindsey Webster and Keith Slattery wring out all the tingling exultation which lurks in this power ballad, with Slattery taking an intriguingly laid-back excursion as Webster sneaks up on the explosive centre of the song. She launches into an astonishing, immaculate sustained note which even shuts up the drinkers in the bar, and causes tears to form in the eyes of hardened music reviewers and their dinner guests. Slattery pays homage to his deeply talented singer by scattering notes around her like rose petals at her feet. Lindsey Webster punches out the song with apparently endless reserves of power.
The art deco elegance of the legendary Mayfair restaurant Le Caprice is an ideal setting for stylish Sunday evening jazz sessions, and their association with Martell cognac makes for some suitably sophisticated cocktails to sip while listening. What began for me as an opportunity to experience one of London’s great restaurants turned into the chance to hear a formidable singing talent at close quarters. A startling and revealing evening.