REVIEW: Liane Carroll with the Guildhall Jazz Choir and Jazz Band at Milton Court

Malcolm Edmonstone, Liane Carroll, Scott Stroman and the Singers and
Band taking the final curtain call
Liane Carroll with the Guildhall Jazz Choir and Jazz Band 
(Milton Court, 29th February 2016. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Greek chorus”…”like swaying trees”….”fulfilment/joy/commitment/everything from memory”…”Choir of the Year?” My less-than-coherent scribbled notes from last night were trying to describe  the contribution of the Guildhall Jazz Choir to a concert billed as “Guildhall Jazz Department Leap-Day Jazz Spectacular with Liane Carroll.”

The complete focus of this group of singers, the expression of total involvement etched on every one of their faces throughout the show, whether they were singing or not, and the elation in the sound when they did sing, seemed to sum up the spirit of an evening which lived up to its ‘spectacular’ billing. At some stage in the process the singers had clearly committed to learn all their parts for the show. Some commentators consider learning music from memory to be a “gimmick.” On the evidence of last night, that argument is just plain wrong.

Liane Carroll and the Guildhall Jazz Singers
Part of what was holding the rapt attention of the Choir when they weren’t actually directly involved was an extraordinary, super-human evening’s work from Liane Carroll. She teaches at least some of them in a role she enjoys hugely, as a Guildhall professor. That said, I’m still still trying to quantify the stamina which must be required to do what she did last night. Being the star of this show meant navigating every tricky arrangement, getting her voice to sail again and again over the top of a full band, kicking with and against rhythms and counter-melodies, filling in pauses with ad lib comedy…and at one point stepping casually up to a piano to extemporize on the Wedding March from Wagner’s Lohengrin. As you do.

There was improbable variety in her vocal tour de force. There we’re moments of Cassandra Wilson dark baritone, of Shirley Horn sustained line, of feverish Ella-ish scat, or of Aretha expressive magic, just throwing the kitchen sink at a song.

There was a practical reason why the Choir and Liane Carroll grabbed the attention, which was that the absence of risers on a flat stage tended to keep the band hidden. That said, among student soloists there were many highlights. In the rhythm group both Matt Gedrych on bass and David Swan at the piano certainly put down markers as names to watch out for the future. Guitarist Nick Fitch had a nice feature on Jobim’s Insensatez, and solo singers Abbey Mordue and particularly the Belgian Anne-Laure Winkin took their solo moments with strong character and considerable style.

The professionals drafted in made their presence felt too. Any band with Ralph Salmins at its heart looks and sounds like it could walk straight into a bigger auditorium and hold a far bigger audience completely in its thrall. Jules Jackson was authoritative on electric bass, and the conducting of Scott Stroman (former Head of Jazz at Guildhall) allowed all the participants incredible freedom in open sections in the knowledge that they would be steered clearly onto the runway for a precise, perfect and safe ensemble landing every time.

This was Edmonstone’s first significant public event since taking the helm of the Guildhall’s Jazz Department as its “Acting Head” (Link to news item from September 2015) . These shows always involve a massive amount of preparatory work by Edmonstone himself. In this case he was responsible for virtually all the arrangements. This context reveals some Edmonstone arranging hallmarks. The pieces often begin with a countermelodic fragment: something hooky, earworm-ish, cycled a few times, and setting a mood before the tune proper emerges, whereas the endings often land on a shimmeringly complex, held chord. They are also tailor-made for Carroll’s strengths. Perhaps a recording will happen. There was also a classy arrangement of Carroll’s tune Dublin Morning by trumpeter James Brady.

Malcolm Edmonstone – as pianist

These celebratory events at the Guildhall School with Malcolm Edmonstone in charge (links to our reviews of some previous events such as the Nightfly and Messiah -Soulful Celebration album recreations and an Ian Shaw night. below) seem to channel a uniquely “up,” optimistic feel, which – I’m guessing –  must stay indelibly in the performers’ minds, and are a strong part of the college’s jazz heritage going back to Pete Churchill. It will sound like hyperbole, but really there is nothing in London’s musical life quite like them.

The next Guildhall Jazz events are a Jazz Showcase on April 27-28 including performances by Iain Ballamy’s Anorak, Bobo Stenson and Martin Speake (Details

Review – Ian Shaw at Guidhall in 2013
Review – Messiah: A Soulful Celebration
Review: Nightfly album re-creation from 2011

Editor’s note: This is LondonJazz News’ 6,000th piece. Our first published piece looked forward to a performance by Liane Carroll.

Categories: miscellaneous

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