Album reviews

Becca Wilkins and Gestalt at The Vortex

Becca Wilkins and Gestalt

(Vortex. 12 August 2021. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

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Becca Wilkins. Phone picture by Tony Dudley-Evans

Becca Wilkins, originally from Kent and based in London, is a young singer who acknowledges influences from European singers such as Leïla Martial, Lucia Cadotsch and Mirna Bogdanović.  These influences were apparent at the Vortex gig, but in a context of a group with trumpet, piano/keys, electric bass and drums, the music comes across as much more forceful than that of those three singers. 

Her group has the name Gestalt, and Wilkins explained at the beginning of the set that the name, meaning shape, pattern of form, and taken from German psychologists, reflects the different approaches that the members of the group bring to the music, and how they combine to produce a cohesive sound.  This came across well in the first song, appropriately titled Gestalt, which began with an impressive duet between voice and Christos Stylianides on trumpet with both using effects.  The second song, Echo Chamber, featured the whole group, with a nice opening from Daisy George on electric bass leading into a duet with voice, a powerful but thoughtful drum solo from Jack Robson, and a beautiful conclusion from Olly Chalk on piano.  

The third song, Particulates, began with a gentle but nicely edgy duet between Wilkins and Stylianides, and continued with another fine solo from Chalk.  These first three songs were all originals written by Wilkins, and workshopped with the group, but the fourth was a cover of a song by PJ Harvey.  Having enjoyed PJ Harvey’s music for some time, I have often wondered why her songs seem not to be performed by jazz singers, and why she does not appear at jazz festivals.  In introducing the song Catherine, Wilkins mentioned that she felt PJ Harvey’s songs have a punk feel, and this aspect was brought out in the group’s performance of the song.

Morpheus featured a fine duet between Stylianides and Chalk and more effective drumming from Robson.  Disassociation featured Wilkins’ words that reflect on the way she has changed and grown as a person over the last five years.  On this and also on Echo Chamber her words are quite poignant, but also have an element of angst; Wilkins conveys these feelings with confidence and charm.  She has an attractive voice, equally strong on the wordless improvisations as on the songs with words, and a pleasing if slightly nervous stage presence.

The group has a lot of character; my only criticism is that in some of the louder passages the sound struck me as a little harsh.  Perhaps that was intended, but I was left wondering whether the balance was quite right in those moments.

It was great to be back at The Vortex, even if it was for one set only.  I attended the first set, which enabled me to get back to Birmingham and in bed before midnight!

LINK: Becca Wilkins’ website

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