Photo credit: BBC/ Mark Allan
Prom 7: Jacob Collier and Friends
(Royal Albert Hall, 19 July 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
As is often the case, less turned out to be more. At the end of his two-part Prom last night, Jacob Collier was out there on his own in front, singing and playing Paul McCartney’s Bach-inspired 1968 classic Blackbird, as the encore. He started off on vocal harmoniser and then sang and beatboxed, miraculously managing to turn the entire full house at the Royal Albert Hall into his backing vocalists.
It was a reminder of what Collier, with all his preternatural talent, virtuosity, versatility and energy, can do with a good song. It also reinforced quite how successful the Collier solo show has been, and how complete it now is. He has, after all, been performing it regularly all over the world since about the time the double-Grammy-winning album In My Room was launched in summer 2016.
|Take 6 with Jacob Collier
Photo credit: BBC/Mark Allan
There were other definite highlights: the Stevie Wonder songs As, and You and I both in arrangements by Jacob Collier, the first performed by Collier and Becca Stevens, with special guests Take 6. The former is on iPlayer HERE at 36:08
That simplicity was welcome after the scale and the complexity, all the comings and goings of the evening’s enterprise. And there was another tricky factor. The live show is an occasion, but the sound engineers understandably tend to favour the bigger audience that will see the show on the TV or hear it on the radio, and the balance in the hall was, to say the least, not always reliable. This show should probably be reviewed as a TV show (it is on at 7.30 pm tonight on BBC4).
That said, it had plenty of lively moments, notably when Gnawa vocalist Hamid El Kasri and his group from Rabat came on for two numbers, resplendent in their traditional costumes, toting a guembri (bass) and a selection of qraqebs (cymbals) and doumbeks (drums). Their artistry and their two tunes were shoe-horned into a complex arrangement for the entire Metropole Orkest, which seemed to turn what had been promised to us as “wonky rhythms” into about the most regimented four on the floor it is possible to imagine.
|Jacob Collier and Becca Stevens
Photo credit: BBC/ Mark Allan
There were other guests too. Becca Stevens appeared in various combinations, notably with Collier and Sam Amidon. I know that one is supposed to review what is in front of you, but I couldn’t help feeling a tinge of regret, having heard her vocal harmonising skills at their most complete. Back in 2013 she had an incredible vocal/instrumental unit with regular band-mates Liam Robins and Chris Tordini. I have that in mind as peak Becca, and I hope she gets back to it. (Reviewed HERE )
Most of the programme consisted of new songs by Jacob Collier, in complex arrangements for full orchestra. Both Jules Buckley and Berlin-based Stefan Behrisch seemed to veer in their arrangements towards what that old Belgian lager ad used to call the “reassuringly expensive” way, redolent of Claus Ogermann. The entire 12-piece brass section would be given a phrase or two… and then cast aside. There are all kinds of wonderful colours in the orchestration.
As regards Jacob Collier’s new songs, at a first listening, I was perplexed. Indeed there was a moment in Once You where I started to have a reservation which I wouldn’t necessarily expect anyone else to share. I definitely get a sense of harmonic adventure and mobility in these new tunes, but what I miss is a sense of harmonic pull or inevitability. Maybe further listening will sort that out and give more of a sense of their essence and appeal.
For Collier to have been given his own early evening Prom at the age of just 23 was not just, as he described it, “a dream come true,” but another fine accolade to go alongside those two well-deserved Grammys. And he made it personal too. His mother Suzie, tucked in at the back of the Metropole’s violins, took a solo, and he also paid tribute to his late grandfather, the eminent English violinist Derek Collier who had played a Bach concerto at the Proms in 1966. This was a special event, and an exciting step in a huge career that has only just begun.
Categories: Live review