REVIEW: Jazz Voice 2016 (EFG London Jazz Festival)

Jazz Voice 2016. Photo credit Daisy Higginson

Jazz Voice – EFG London Jazz Festival Opening Gala
(Southbank Centre / Royal Festival Hall. 11th November 2016. Review by Leah Williams)

Last night, the twenty-fourth London Jazz Festival was kicked off in appropriately momentous fashion with a celebration of the jazz voice in all its many guises, in the ninth edition of Jazz Voice. The rich sound of an unashamedly talented orchestra led by Guy Barker was the combining thread that supported and enriched the performances of some of the most renowned and hottest names in jazz.

Our host for the evening was Jay Rayner, writer and broadcaster mostly known as “the big-haired guy from Masterchef”, as he quipped himself. His intermittent compering was engaging and witty, with some interesting insights into the history of the pieces being performed. If you wonder what a writer and restaurant critic was doing hosting the opening night of a jazz festival, as he suggested himself might be the question on people’s minds, he’s a jazz buff who also plays jazz piano with a quartet of his own: “the best jazz pianist who also reviews restaurants” as he modestly joked.

John Pizzarelli and Guy Barker. Jazz Voice 2016
Photo credit : Paul Wood

The first three songs to open the evening gave immediate insight into the kind of varied, no-holds-barred, far-reaching definition of “jazz” that was to be showcased and celebrated throughout the opening gala. To kick off the show, classic American singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli treated us to a swinging version of the little-known McCartney & Wings track Let ‘Em In where his recognisable guitar and scatting combo was at full strength even amidst the full sound of the orchestra. This was swiftly followed by one of the jazz scene’s rising stars, Kandace Springs, whose recent Blue Note release has her in hot demand – so much so that she’s had to add another date to her London Jazz Festival appearances to cater for it.

Kandace Springs and Dave Newton. Jazz Voice 2016
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Her style could not have been much further from the light, up-tempo opener from Pizzarelli as she took to the piano to perform the gentle yet stirring title track from her album Soul Eyes. Complemented by the soft sounds of the orchestra strings, it gave her soulful voice full room to shine and her trendy appeal is reflective of the way in which younger generations are beginning to appreciate and embrace jazz influences more and more. Following hotly on her heels was Lady Leshurr, up-and-coming British rapper, whose whimsical grime song that was about the hygiene of brushing your teeth – no, really – took us on a completely different adventure yet again!

The night continued on in this way with a wide range of styles and voices treating us to a variety of music, ranging from jazz classics to the most unlikely of popular songs revamped for the occasion. Jazz legends Lizz Wright and Allan Harris, both performed simple yet evocative standards such as Like Someone in Love and On the Street Where You Live respectively, and Polly Gibbons gave some big performances with a big band arrangement of Sarah Vaughan’s Don’t be on the Outside and later with blues classic Since I Fell For You.

Another rising star whose incredible “almost indecent talent” – as described by our host – was young Jacob Collier. His first performance, of one of his own compositions, was a really standout piece of the night that seemed as though it had been written specifically with an orchestra in mind and the unique structure and patterns interwove delightfully between piano, band members and voice with magical results.

Throughout the evening, the incredible trio LaSharVu (made up of vocal powerhouses LaDonna Harley Peters, Sharlene Hector and Vula Malinga) provided impressive harmonising and vocal acrobatics that elicited more than a few whoops of appreciation from the crowd as they performed arrangements of classic popular songs, ranging from The Fugees hit version of Killing Me Softly through to the interesting choice of Take That’s I Want You Back.

It was all good fun and an all-round great evening that had everyone bopping in their seats and raring to get up on their feet for the deserved standing ovation at the end. A fantastic start to what promises to be another brilliant Jazz Festival.

Categories: miscellaneous

7 replies »

  1. Lady Leshurr was booed by some in the crowd, and rightly so. Utter drivel. She made a complete idiot of herself with her kindergarten-level lyrics about washing one's teeth to muted applause from an embarrassed audience.

  2. Were you in the same concert as me? Utterly disappointing. The amplification, especially of the strings, made the whole sound fuzzy and blurred. The talent was mixed to say the least. I left at the interval.

  3. I have attended the Jazz Voice events for the last decade or so. Sorry to relate that the new venue was inferior to the former Barbican venue as the stage was cramped and the performers were not centre stage. Not to say that the RFH is a decent venue, but not for a 42 piece orchestra. Lady Leshurr's performance scraped the barrel and stank. Not the right audience. Cannot imagine what the organisers were thinking when they invited her.

  4. The program was up and down and all over the place. Lady Leshurr was totally in the wrong place! She is a Rapper / Grime artist. But I didnt hear any boos! She may have won a MOBO but this was not her crowd and she struggled. The organiser who suggested her was clearly off thier head!

    Jacob Colliers rendition of Danny Boy was cringeworthy. Wonder if its a case of 'Emperors new clothes' no critics for the current golden boy.

    Lasharvu, Polly Gibbons, Allan Harris and Liz Wright saved the night with proper jazz vocals, and they were clearly very popular.

    We were in the Stalls it certainly was NOT value for money! Organisers need to go back and see where they messed up. We paid to be entertained with jazz vocals.

  5. I pretty much agree with the previous comments. I too have attended every Jazz Voice since it started and this year was the first time that I left feeling disappointed. What Lady Leshurr was included for I have no idea. Her performances has nothing to do with jazz whatsoever. A poor choice.

    As for Jacob Collier, I'm sorry but I don't see what all the fuss and hype is about. The new 'Jazz Messiah'….I don't think so. After finishing his appalling version of 'Danny Boy' one of my friends commented 'Well that's 6 minutes of my life I'll never get back!'. I couldn't have agreed more. Dreadful.

    Allan Harris, however, was superb and I could have quite happily listened to him all night.

    I think that the choice of performers for next years show will have to be seriously thought out afters this years standards.

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