REVIEW: Dee Dee Bridgewater + Camilla George at Cadogan Hall (2017 EFG LJF)

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Dee Dee Bridgewater + Camilla George
(Cadogan Hall. Thurs. 16th Nov. 2017 EFG LJF. Review by Alison Bentley)

It soundedas if Dee Dee Bridgewater’s voice had been waiting for these songs. In her jazz singing, she’s always had a strong soulful voice, sometimes muted like a trumpet. In this gig the voice was on fire with songs from her new album, Memphis… Yes, I’m Ready with her Memphis Soulphony band. Born in Memphis, Bridgewater grew up listening to soul and R&B on WDIA Radio; dedicated to black music, it used musician DJs (BB King, Rufus Thomas, and her own trumpeter father, ‘Matt the Platter Cat’.) Bridgewater also has a background in musical theatre, and a strong onstage persona: each song (‘revisiting, revamping’) involved an anecdote or miniature drama.

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The voice was deep and lived-in (a little like recent Candi Staton) in Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s I’m Going Down Slow, with its Dr John vibe. Gospelly backing singers joined her in Gladys Knight’s Giving Up, with Dell Smith’s stirring Hammond. She sang the Temptations’ I Can’t Get Next to You (Al Green’s version) as if her voice were all the instruments at once. Things took a comic turn: she recalled underwear being thrown on stage to a disdainful Al Green- but she donned the Y-fronts thrown on for her, over her spangly white outfit.

From comedy to pathos in seconds: in Barbara Mason’s Yes I’m Ready, a sweet 6/8 ballad, Bridgewater sang freely with a Dionne Warwick timbre, scatting into high pure notes- emotion without sentimentality. The powerful call and response between Bridgewater and backing vocals continued in the funky Why (Am I Treated So Bad.) She recalled Martin Luther King getting the Staple Singers to perform this at rallies. In Carla Thomas’ B.A.B.Y. , trumpet and sax sounded like a much bigger horn section as they crescendoed into a up tempo gospel groove.

Two Elvis songs appeared in unexpected guises. Bridgewater sang the lyrics of Don’t Be Cruel (Wilson Pickett’s version) to saxophonist Bryant Lockhart; a musical conversation unfolded, voice scatting brilliantly to match sax in virtuosity and intensity. Big Mama Thornton’s rootsy minor blues, Hound Dog, created a comic drama where singers competed for bassist Barry Campbell’s attention, as Charlton Johnson played heartbreaking slide guitar.

The Soul Children’s ballad The Sweeter He Is unleashed a memory about teenage lost love leading to a ‘pivotal’ decision to be a singer. She communicated a powerful sense of loss and longing, in a moving moment with Curtis Pulliam’s muted trumpet. In I Can’t Stand the Rain (by Ann Peebles) the jazzy, behind-the-beat phrasing was spine-tingling.

‘Free yourselves, ‘cause this is B.B.King time!’- she got the audience dancing (in Cadogan Hall!) to a funky The Thrill is Gone, incorporating the Meters’ Cissy Strut. Try A Little Tenderness has suspense built into the song; as the gentle opening unfolds, you know it’s about to break into a huge shout chorus. It was the perfect song to finish on, showing the full range of her voice from jazzy delicacy to soul-belt.

‘As singers, people expect us to stay in the same category of music for all of our lives. And musicians are allowed to be much freer,’ she told one interviewer. This audience yelled their approval for her new venture.

Camilla George
Photo credit: Paul Wood

‘The world is safe because we have Camilla,’ said Bridgewater earlier, after London-based alto-player Camilla George’s support set. George played with an assured calmness. Her pieces were based on African stories: a magic turtle, a spirit who takes the form of a mermaid (Mami Wata.) There was some Coltrane/Rollins influence in her thoughtful playing, supported by the excellent Daniel Casimir (bass) and Winston Clifford (drums.) Creative pianist Sarah Tandy brought a strong technique and sense of stillness to a ‘ballad for naughty children.’

You felt the future of jazz was in good hands.

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