REVIEW: Melody Gardot at the Royal Festival Hall (2015 EFG LJF)

Melody Gardot in Berlin in 2010
Photo Credit: Stefanie Meynberg / Creative Commons

Melody Gardot
(Royal Festival Hall November 17th 2015. Review by Andrew Cartmel)

Melody Gardot strides on stage like a gangster in high heels. The packed house at the Royal Festival Hall is immediately clapping in time as the drums, by Charles Staab, and the bass, by Edwin Livingston, storm an intro, Irwin Hall’s sax blasting. Melody Gardot is singing a mournful chant, then Same to You becomes a choppy soul strut, with Gardot seeming to beam in her vocals from the bridge of a UFO, singing with snarls, yelps and a roar which would do credit to a lion. A glamorous lady lion. Livingston’s electric bass is chopping like an executioner and Staab is creating a pocket of thunder with his drums. It’s an hypnotic, scary rendition which ceases in mid-beat.

“’Ello, ’ello, ’ello,” says Melody Gardot, evoking a 1950s British beat cop; “Good evening.” She Don’t Know commences with unison stabs from the horn section (Irwin Hall with Korey Riker on baritone sax and Shareef Clayton on trumpet) while the singer’s sinuous, serpentine vocals weave up among the instruments. Livingston’s bass is vast and pungently plangent. The song ends on an eerie tremolo figure from the electric keyboards by Devin Greenwood and a blown kiss — Melody smooching into the microphone.

Bad News, a standout track from Gardot’s new album Currency of Man, and a kind of love song to Tom Waits, is presented in a fascinating new arrangement. It begins, with the stage awash in garish red light, as a menacing lope out of the backwoods, with an insinuating horn section and the lighting promising sin and hellfire in equal measure. Shareef Clayton excels on tightrope muted trumpet, Edwin Livingston is on upright acoustic bass now, strumming and plucking, and Charles Staab plays minimal, ticking drums like a failing heartbeat. Irwin Hall’s sax gives a stung-cat wail, then soars heavenwards. Melody Gardot tips her hat to him in acknowledgement of his solo. Hall is now uttering shattered bop fragments. The song is taken at a slow, smooth, inexorably menacing pace like floodwater rising.

“Charlie Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden — freedom is their biggest lesson,” says Melody Gardot by way of an introduction to March for Mingus. Naturally this is a showcase for Edwin Livingston, continuing on double bass. His plucking of the instrument resembles a guttural voice muttering. The he bows it in an echoing, mournful sweep, like a giant blowing into the top of a bottle. Gardot sits at an upright piano and plays a roiling run, the drum starts and the horns cut through the dark, sharp as a police spotlight. Irwin Hall is playing two saxophones at once, snarling in stereo. The sound of the combo is like an air raid siren signalling the apocalypse. Then as Hall plays his solo (his duo?), it miraculously sounds the All Clear.

Les Etoiles is a tribute to the street jazz of Paris, with Melody Gardot singing in elegant French, Devin Greenwood now on washboard, Charles Staab playing a wooden wine crate (how appropriate) and Mitchell Long switching from electric to acoustic guitar and playing splendidly Django style. Shareef Clayton offers notable post-Dixieland muted trumpet and there’s a thoughtful solo from Korey Riker on baritone sax. Mitchell Long is back on electric for Preacherman and his rumbling strum-and-twang guitar shakes the room, and your viscera, like the wrath of god. Highly suitable for this dark tale of intolerance and murder which Melody Gardot dedicates to the memory of last week’s atrocity in Paris (she was there, gigging). Devin Greenwood is at his finest, electric keyboards conjuring swirling surrealist sounds, chirping and chiming. Mitchell Long is channeling Hendrix as the gig comes full circle and the evening draws to a storming conclusion.

Dressed in her black hat, trademark sunglasses, and slinky black outfit, Melody Gardot may look like a master criminal — but all she’s going to steal is your heart.

LINKS: Melody Gardot at Pizza Express in 2015
CD Review – Currency of Man
Melody Gardot at the London Jazz FEstival in 2012
Melody Gardot at the London Jazz Festival in 2009 ( amssively-read piece by Alison Hoblyn) 

Categories: miscellaneous

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