Cécile McLorin Salvant & Sullivan Fortner
Andrew McCormack & Jason Yarde Duo
(Barbican Hall. EFG London Jazz Festival.16 November 2019. Review by Richard Lee)
My start to the EFG London Jazz Festival was more restrained than the crowded stages of the opening night but no less exuberant: two duos, one piano, and one empty stage were nevertheless brimful of soaring jazz and mightily engaging performances.
Having already exhausted the superlatives after Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner‘s astonishing set at Jazz Sous Les Pommiers in Normandy, I immediately booked on my return to see them at the Barbican. Some more superlatives will follow below… But to find on arrival that Andrew McCormack and Jason Yarde had been programmed as support was the best possible bonus.
I’ve really enjoyed both artists’ work in the last decade and tonight saw them on top form. Early in the set came a fine rendition of Bernstein’s Something’s Coming but familiarity with that didn’t offset the audience’s obvious enjoyment of the four original numbers which made up the set, two originals from Yarde who played soprano throughout with an assured power and simply tingling tone, and a pair from McCormack who was equally fulsome laying down a beautiful, lyrical context and some driving solos. I particularly liked his Antibes, a rather beautiful tune inspired by European tours with Kyle Eastwood and his Coda, used as an outro to the Bernstein. The set was book-ended by two compositions from Yarde: both Thank You For Today and Dark Too Bright centered on characteristic motifs while Yarde’s immensely fluid arpeggios were part of a richer sonic journey; in Dark Too Bright I was particularly intrigued by his blowing over and around the open grand piano, varying the acoustic quality of both instruments while effortlessly interacting with McCormack’s careful chording. At one point, I even wondered if a possible source of inspiration was John Williams’ infamous Close Encounters pentatonic, but I think that was just coincidence. I was reminded of the authority and ease that Carla Bley and Andy Sheppard bring to their concerts, though Yarde is a tad more animated, thrillingly so with the odd vocal interpolation and the bluesier, Monk-like climax of that final number.
Having already written about the astounding duo of Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner, I’m bound not to go into depth, but suffice to say, they continue to soar. These two are the future of the accompanied voice in jazz, and probably beyond. Lucky attendees to the previous evening’s Jazz Voice would have heard what an opus Stevie Wonder’s Visions can become but here they were giving a fulsome set that delighted. From the first knowing smile of Blossom Dearie’s You Fascinate Me So Salvant simply electrifies the audience. Her knowing smile, her engagement, her vivacity as she rises to the tips of her toes…all shimmer. And as soon as we are entranced, the fleet and equally exuberant piano of Fortner takes us on another journey in a solo that completely rethinks the tune. As well as bedrock favourites I Didn’t Know What Time It Was and The Trolley Song the set is full of eclectic choices from musicals that suggest a fresh way of compiling the Songbooks of the future. If Momma Was Married from Gypsy and Where Is Love from Oliver! were revelatory in being neither sentimental nor saccharine, while their treatment of two Brecht & Weill songs from The Threepenny Opera was witty, astute and in the case of the final encore, I can honestly say that previous definitive incarnations of the Pirate Jenny (e.g. Lenya, Lempe, Covington & Archer) have met their match. Salvant’s embodiment of a song, her control and diction, are superb, and the partnership with Fortner which exudes intelligence and wit in the widest sense is anything but “accompaniment”.
Categories: Live review