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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.

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