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Omar + QCBA – Live at the Jazz Café

Omar + QCBA
(Live at The Jazz Café. Also recorded for future release as a live album. 29 May 2021. Review by Lavender Sutton)

Omar at The Jazz Cafe
Omar. Photo credit Monika S Jakubowska

Camden Town on a Saturday night was an experience many had been missing over the last year and a half and, on this occasion, the Jazz Cafe was the place to be. The addition of tables and chairs has changed the vibe slightly but the overall feel of the place is the same: smoky dark room, DJ beats in the background, gorgeous cocktails on the menu.

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The supporting act, harpist Alina Bzhezhinska, surprised and delighted everyone. Questions about the giant harp on stage whispered around the audience as it waited in the dark but she commanded the stage from the beginning, playing a mixed set of originals, a tribute to Alice Coltrane and a famous piece by Dorothy Ashby called Action Line. It was a great introduction to the evening, which on paper was quite an eclectic mix of musicians coming together but in realisation was a really exciting opportunity to present something new.

Alina Bzhezhinska supporting Omar at The Jazz Cafe
Alina Bzhezhinska. Photo credit Monika S Jakubowska

The headliner, Omar (MBE), no stranger to The Jazz Cafe, is known as the father of British neo-soul. In the past, he’s performed with Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and even Stevie Wonder so pairing Omar with QCBA – a jazz organ quartet fronted by Quentin Collins on trumpet and Brandon Allen on tenor sax – came as an intriguing surprise. 

The quartet started the night off with an instrumental; organist, Ross Stanley, and drummer, James Maddren, laid down the feel of the evening right from the get-go – funky. Omar’s first song, Essensual, added another flavour as Allen picked up the flute and the band settled into a sensual (get it?)  latin groove. 

Ross Stanley of QCBA
Ross Stanley. Photo credit Monika S Jakubowska

It was mentioned at the start that the two shows of the evening were being recorded to release as a live album and when the band let loose to solo, it’s no doubt they were playing to catch it all on tape. A year of compiling ideas and shedding at home has left these guys with no shortage of ideas, they were all on top form. 

Each song had a groove that definitely hooked everyone in and was the strong base of Omar’s style, but the band had moments where they went off-piste, where the jazz aficionados would be able to tell that they’re the real deal. The quartet had the vibe of a Roy Hargrove RH Factor or even Tower of Power at times – the sound of a band double the size.

Omar’s voice was so rich and clear and his confidence on stage was what drew everyone in. When he played his hit single There’s Nothing Like This the audience erupted in a call and response session that reminisced of a time when we didn’t have to worry about social distancing.

Omar and QCBA onstage at The Jazz Cafe
Omar (centre) and QCBA. Photo credit Monika S Jakubowska

Overall, the mix of latin stylings, funk rhythms and soulful lyrics, paired with the jazz masters that are QCBA, made for an evening of high-class entertainment. The audience would agree that there’s ‘nothing like this’ – but in case you missed it, watch out for the album release on Ubuntu Music. 

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