(Lauderdale House, 23 May 2019. Review by Brian Blain)
Shireen Francis, who played, along with her fine band – Gunther Kurmayr (p) Josh Kemp (ts), Manuel Alvarez (b) and Dave Ingamells (d) – at Lauderdale House last Thursday is one of the most engaging and uplifting artists on the scene. Starting with a low-key tribute to Doris Day, Secret Love, with a calm serenity which got a grip on the audience that she never let go throughout an evening of American Songbook classics from a very different era than that phrase brings to mind.
It was Gladys Knight’s version of The Way We Were, not Streisand, that she brought to the table, for example,and we were treated to material popularised by artists like Dianne Schuur, Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. There was even a nostalgic look back to one of her Windrush Generation father’s favourites, Lord Kitchener’s London is the Place For Me, a cheerful calypso, absolutely typical of the music enjoyed by that first wave of immigrants from the Caribbean.
It’s clear from Shireen’s Island Project CD and live shows that there is much more than conventional jazz on offer, and yet the way her rhythm section works, by not being too heavy on the back beat on the more soul groove numbers it never felt anything other than a jazz rhythm section, light and almost multi-rhythmic; very subtle. It could fly in straight four time too and a superb duet between Shireen and bassist Manuel, with his great time and intonation at what felt like 100 miles per hour, on Them There Eyes was really thrilling. Interesting choice this one; I have never heard any of The Great American Songbook singers do this and yet it was first recorded at the beginning of the ’30s by Louis Armstrong, and then by ‘everyone’ from Bing Crosby to Billie Holiday and Diana Ross and even the inventor of cool, Lester Young.
Mention too for tenorist Josh Kemp, not a name familiar to me and not someone I imagine who would cause any of the academy wizz kids’ jaws to drop, but by the time we got to Broadway, just before the break, from modest beginnings he was really laying down strong solos; nothing virtuosic and plenty of his own comfortable licks and warm welcoming sound that really reached the people.
All too often the applause that greets solos peters out before the end of the date, but not with this band; every time Kemp went for it, as did Kurmayr, the audience was with them. And apart from their own abilities, the way Shireen Francis sets things up, a true leader with no phoney overhead hand claps or ‘are you having a good times’ but real communication skills and genuine emotions built a bridge to the audience that made the instrumental musicians’ communication so much easier.
A festival band par excellence, built around a warm and beautiful spirit.
Brian Blain is part of the programming team at Lauderdale House