(Crazy Coqs. 19th November 2015. 3rd night of three. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Alex Webb)
Named ‘Rising Star Male Vocalist’ in the Downbeat Critics Poll earlier this year, Brooklyn-born, Harlem-based vocalist/guitarist/bandleader/composer Allan Harris has long been making a name in mainland Europe and Russia but only now is he starting to get due recognition in London. Gifted with a Nat Cole-like baritone, his three-night sold-out stint at Soho’s Crazy Coqs showed off the years of developing his craft – not just at interpreting classic songs, but at getting an audience eating out of the palm of his hand. It’s something about his spontaneity and wisecracking American humour but also, clearly, that he’s so damn comfortable up there.
The dates were, in part, a tribute to the famed partnership of Tony Bennett and pianist Bill Evans – which had already inspired Harris’s 2012 album Convergence. In the demanding role of accompanist was pianist Robin Aspland, who did an excellent job of creating some Evans-like moods without following the master too slavishly.
Many of the songs – My Foolish Heart, The Touch Of Your Lips, But Beautiful – came from the Bennett/Evans canon and were given loving and effective treatments. Harris explained how Bennett had befriended him some years back and given him two weeks of mentoring – which even involved tying Harris’s hands to his sides and making him speak, rather than sing, song lyrics. That hard-earned depth of understanding of the meanings and rhythms of the texts shone through.
Of course in Sinatra’s centenary year there was a nod to the Ol’ Blue Eyes catalogue, with You Make Me Feel So Young and We’ll Be Together Again, the latter producing a particularly fine solo from Aspland. For A Foggy Day In London Town Harris was joined on stage by a scatting Anita Wardell and he encored with the work of another of this year’s centenarians, Billy Strayhorn, the immortal Lush Life.
Alex Webb is producer of “Lush Life” at Cadogan Hall
Allan Harris will be paying tribute to Strayhorn on Friday 20th November at Cadogan Hall alongside fellow vocalists David McAlmont and Sandra Nkake; and playing his own show at the Dover Arts Club on Saturday 21st November.