|Vimala Rowe, John Etheridge, Dudley Phillips|
Vimala Rowe with the John Etheridge Trio
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 10th September 2015. 4th night of the John Etheridge residency. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
Four different formations make up the six-night John Etheridge residency at Pizza Express this week. The newest of them is a collaboration with singer Vimala Rowe. It is a fascinating creative cauldron right now, and alive with possibility. Etheridge and Rowe have made a CD, which has taken slightly longer to produce than they had hoped, and should be available next month. They are continuing to add repertoire from far and wide. John Etheridge has explored many genres, styles, legacies in his career, but his curiosity is undimmed, and in Vimala Rowe he seems to have found a singer of quite astonishing versatility and adaptability to open up several more avenues.
Rowe’s stylistic and expressive range are just part of what made last night’s show so engaging. She also has performance experience, a compelling stage presence, and savvy to burn. She has recently made a hit in a flamenco show being run by Paco Pena at Sadler’s Wells, and also in performances of Alex Webb’s Cafe Society.
But (please hold on to your hats) there’s more, much more. In this show there were songs drawing on Rowe’s training in classical North Indian vocal technique. We also heard the East African classic Malaika, sung in very creditable Swahili. She also socked out some soul numbers, caressed and delicately floated a couple of jazz ballads, and touched the heart with a Syrian-Aramaic prayer. The Indian classical vocals take some getting used to, but that is probably a matter of familiarity. A quick perusal of her biography (and YouTube) indicates that she has also, in her time, lived in the Far East, where she powered up rap lyrics like “I’m a soul sista mista” with the Thai band TKO.
I kept on thinking how were lucky we were to be hearing Rowe in the intimate surroundings of a small club, but at the same time I was imagining other, much larger places she might pop up. Those contexts like Jazz Voice or BBC Proms where singers are required to stamp their authority immediately on, say an Etta James or Rachelle Ferrell or Billie Holiday song in front of a large audience. It is very easy indeed to imagine Rowe delivering the goods on the big stage.
The band were extremely classy and responsive and clearly enjoying the show too, going from the quietest ethereal sounds from Etheridge’s guitar all the way to full band in full cry. Dudley Phillips with his double bass played side-on was laying down time in a magical less-is-more way, particularly on Detour Ahead. Drummer Mark Fletcher‘s contribution would be easy to take for granted – that’s the way it goes when everything – supportiveness and attentiveness volume, time, sound quality – is quite so completely and unobtrusively right.
We are going to hear a lot more of Vimala Rowe.
God Bless the Child
Hymn to Saraswati
We have to Part
In My Solitude
My Baby’s Gone Away
Syrian -Aramaic prayer
The John Etheridge residency at Pizza Express Dean Street continues till Saturday 12th
LINK: Vimala Rowe website