Polly Gibbons – All I Can Do
(Resonance Records RCD-1028. CD review by Mark McKergow)
British singer Polly Gibbons is spending more time than ever in the USA these days so it’s fitting that her third album, recorded in New York with an East Coast jazz attitude, sees her embracing an even wider range of material and living on blues power.
The Polly Gibbons we hear on All I Can Do is a more powerful persona than the fresh-faced girl I saw at Ronnie Scott’s some years ago. In her voice and appearance she seems to have gained strength, with an ability to take it up on swinging romps and yet draw us in on atmospheric ballads. This collection is absolutely dripping in bluesy and soulful inflections, as if Adele and Joss Stone had suddenly developed a penchant for perfectly-formed yet spontaneous jazz.
The album was recorded live-in-the-studio at the famous Power Station Studios NYC, where the large sized room permits a good-sized audience to join the proceedings. This makes for a sparkling sound quality and also gives Gibbons’ excursions into extemporisation a focus – we can hear her engagement with the folk in front of her. Musical direction is shared between Gibbons’ long-term London collaborator James Pearson and Los Angeles’ Tamir Hendelman, who combine seamlessly to provide Polly with delicious band arrangements which always support her vocals and never interfere or distract.
The album opens with Horace Silver’s Permit Me To Introduce You To Yourself, a lively and bouncing swinger that immediately establishes the jazz credentials and spirit of the music. Shedrick Mitchell’s Hammond organ and the guitar of Paul Bollenback are right there from the start, forming a great backdrop to Gibbon’s leaping vocals. Al Jarreau’s Good Hands Tonight follows, in an on-trend gender bending take which works very well indeed and again gives Gibbons space to go from sweet balladeer to passionate growler in the blink of an eye.
This album is notable for a really wide range of source material and imaginative treatments. Beautiful People is a little-remembered Leslie Bricusse song from the 1967 film Dr Dolittle which springs into life in a theatrical arrangement with beautiful piano obligato from James Pearson. Anything Goes takes the Cole Porter classic and adds a slow-burning funk backbeat to the verses, contrasting well with the tricky fast-moving “world’s gone mad today” sections. Most notably, the sparse and beautiful treatment of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U is spine-tingling in its directness; we can hear that no pins were dropped during this performance.
Amongst this rich menu are interspersed two Polly Gibbons originals (co-written with James Pearson). All I Can Do Is Sing The Blues, while not technically a blues, gives a super extended moment for Gibbons to demonstrate her blowing chops as she muses and scats, while If You Had The Chance is a between-the-eyes smouldering soul excursion. I love the way that Polly Gibbons sings the opening line “If you had the chaance” in an impeccable British accent – she may be recording in New York, but her voice is still her own.
This is a superb collection of classy, bluesy jazz and another huge step up for Polly Gibbons. The sequencing of the album means that it plays very well indeed as an experience from beginning to end.
Get hold of it, put it on and prepare for a magical journey into life and love.