Live review

Emma-Jean Thackray at Total Refreshment Centre (2020 EFG LJF)

Emma-Jean Thackray
(Total Refreshment Centre
. Stream performance. 13 November 2020. Review by Graham Spry)

Emma-Jean Thackray (Screenshot)

The Total Refreshment Centre must be one of the most intimate venues in the country. To watch a streamed concert at the venue is almost like looking into someone’s living room with its backdrop of lamps, books on shelves and sofas. And the performance by Emma-Jean Thackray and her band at the Total Refreshment Centre as streamed for the EFG London Jazz Festival is well-suited to such an intimate setting. Her band manages to fit into the available space with Thackray on trumpet, synth and occasional vocal on the far left. Next to her, just in front of a potted plant and a table lamp, is Matt Gedrych on electric bass. In the middle of the stage area on the oriental carpet is Crispin Robinson on congas. Behind him and in front of a stylish standard lamp is Dougal Taylor on percussion. To the right beside a leather sofa is Lyle Barton on Rhodes piano and Roland organ.

Emma-Jean Thackray has attracted increasing attention recently, not only as a jazz musician and composer, but also with her projects with the London Symphony Orchestra, her show on Worldwide FM and as a DJ. Outside of jazz, her musical interests include contemporary dance music and club culture. Although jazz enthusiasts will recognise the influence and groove of the likes of Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, her performance and compositions are also clearly informed by the warm, uplifting and melodic influence of House music.

Her concert has something of the structure of a DJ set insofar as it follows an arc from a relatively sparse opening through a varied set where the tunes flow easily from one into the next, uninterrupted by announcements between numbers. This naturally presents a problem for the reviewer as it is often difficult to be sure what each composition might be. However, the set does include Thackray’s reworking of Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil elided into his Night Dreamer. It also features her reworking of the House classic Brighter Days by Chicago DJs Cajmere & Dajae. Most of the set showcases her own compositions including some from her recent Rain Dance EP and the somewhat darker sounds of her Um Yang project.

L:R Emma-Jean Thackray, Matt Gedrych, Crispin Robinson, Dwayne Kilvington, Lyle Barton (Screenshot)

Although Thackray is undoubtedly the leader of the band, each member of the band makes a fairly equal contribution to the music. Although the solos are generally restrained, there are opportunities for each musician to shine. The steady rhythm of the congas, drums, Rhodes piano and electric bass provide the essential rhythm to Thackray’s expressive trumpet, occasionally bolstered by a wash of sound from her synthesiser on the more House-based numbers. Her vocal contributions are not so much lyrics to a song as phrases often intoned rather than sung, rather as vocals in House music are generally used as just another instrument instead of the primary centre of attention.

Inevitably, the band’s performance is hampered by the fact that there is no audience at the venue, though this might also just make the set that more intimate. Thackray deliberately avoids the awkward silence between numbers where you would naturally expect applause and brings the set to quite an abrupt finish with no final remarks. Overall, a very enjoyable set which can continue to be seen again for no cost on the EFG London Jazz Festival web site… HERE

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