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REVIEW: London Vocal Project: Jon Hendricks’ Miles Ahead at Kings Place

Pete Churchill (centre) soloists and the London Vocal Project
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney
London Vocal Project – Jon Hendricks’ Miles Ahead
(Kings Place, 9 December 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This was the kind of concert which consistently challenges the wisdom of that old saying about being ‘impressed but not moved’. Because, in essence, I can’t see how it would be possible for anyone present not to have been affected emotionally in some way, maybe even profoundly, and also regularly spellbound by the level of achievement on show in the hall. Let’s start with the ‘moved’:

At the end of the concert, Michele Hendricks told the story of how her father had harboured a dream for almost half a century to be able to perform the entirety of Gil Evans’ Miles Ahead with voices. As she did so, the memories were clearly flooding back to her, the depth of emotion in her voice was clear, and tears were starting to well up. It was a moment to contemplate what has been done, this whole  astonishing and life-affirming story. The dream becoming a reality has happened through the  immense work and dedication of Pete Churchill working with Hendricks, through the generosity of Quincy Jones, and through the deep involvement of the members of London Vocal Project. They all ensured that Hendricks himself was able to hear the work in full; literally to hear his dream come true at St. Peter’s Church in New York – just a few months before he died last year at the age of 96.

Most of the performers on stage, the singers and also bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Steve Brown, had been there for that New York concert, and their engagement in this whole project is so visible when they do it. One could sense the LVP members’ commitment to what they do throughout the concert, whether singing or just watching. My eye caught the faces of the singers as Anita Wardell performed the scat solos on In a Mellow Tone. Every one of them had that expression of willing her on, enjoying every moment, breathing with her through every phrase and every vocal pirouette. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such palpable sense of support and encouragement being given to another performer on stage. And with good reason. Wardell’s singing was a remarkable feat, possibly enhanced by that egging-on from the other singers. The other soloists put in great performances too. A ‘role debut’ by Iain Mackenzie bodes well, and Michele Hendricks, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a way of owning this mode of expression.

So that was the ‘moved’. There was also the ‘impressed’. In one sense the fairy-story has happened, and this was a re-living or re-telling of it. But to think of it that way would be a misunderstanding of the way performance works. Through the process of work in rehearsal and doing additional performances, one can experience how the performers dig deeper into the material, one can see their expressions as they unearth more harmony, counterpoint and complexity to revel in. Whereas in the UK premiere there was perhaps still an element of caution, this performance, with all the fiendishly complex vocal writing, and the fact that it is all done without any scores means that the performers can encourage each other, interact. It came across far more boldly and convincingly than I remember from the UK premiere. And that creates the excitement of anticipation of how it can develop further.

Another sideways thought kept coming back to me. In London, there is a section of the writers specialising in classical music who have, rather high-handedly, written of the performances of symphonies from memory which Aurora Orchestra does as a ‘gimmick’. Pete Churchill has written passionately and eloquently in a FEATURE earlier this year to mark the 10th anniversary of LVP how this commitment to the music works, and the results that can be derived from it. If performing from memory is a gimmick, then, in the immortal words of Dorothy Parker, I am Marie of Roumania.

Michele Hendricks

1) It’s Sand Man – Ed Lewis & Jon Hendricks (Lambert, Hendricks and Ross – from ‘Sing a song of Basie’) (LVP)
2) In a Mellow Tone – Duke Ellington. Vocalese scat solos by Jon Hendricks (Anita Wardell and Trio)
3) Li’l Darlin’ – Neil Hefti & Jon Hendricks (Andi Hopgood, LVP)
4) Ev’rybody’s Boppin’ – Jon Hendricks (Michele Hendricks)
5) O Pato – Jaime Silva/Neuza Teixeira, arr. Brendan Dowse – English lyric by Jon Hendricks (LVP)
6) Love Makes the World Go Round – Bob Merrill (Iain Mackenzie)
7) The Preacher – Horace Silver, lyrics by Jon Hendricks (LVP)

SECOND SET (All lyrics by Jon Hendricks)

1) Springsville – John Carisi
2) Maids of Cadiz – Delibes
3) The Duke – Dave Brubeck
4) My Ship – Kurt Weill
5) Miles Ahead – Miles Davis/Gil Evans
6) Blues for Pablo – Gil Evans
7) New Rhumba – Ahmad Jamal
8) The Meaning of the Blues – Bobby Troup/Leah Worth
9) Lament – J.J.Johnson
10) I Don’t Wanna be Kissed – Jack Eliot/Harold Spina

ENCORE: The Preacher – Horace Silver, lyrics by Jon Hendricks

LINKS: Mike Collins’ review of the partial Miles Ahead at Ronnie Scott’s in June 2014
Tessa Souter’s report of the New York premiere in May 2017
John L Walters’ review of the London premiere in May 2017

Categories: Live reviews

2 replies »

  1. Was both moved and impressed at this 2nd UK performance of Miles Ahead.
    The afternoon workshop gave a great insight into Jon Hendricks and the creation of this work. Hearing a recording of Jon coming up with the lyrics when working with Pete in New York was particularly moving to hear.

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