(Royal Festival Hall. 11 November 2022. EFG LJF. Review by Lavender Sutton)
Every year the London Jazz Festival’s opening gala: Jazz Voice at Royal Festival Hall sets the tone for the festival’s commencement and gives a taster of the wide variety of vocalists both locally and internationally that are contributing to the genre.
What started as a one-off by musical director and arranger, Guy Barker, 15 years ago, has continued as an official part of the festival and is highly anticipated by festival fans.
This year was no different with no fewer than eight vocalists from around the globe. Each one met with Barker and chose 2 songs (one in each set) that they would like to perform. Then Barker worked his magic to arrange each song for the London Jazz Festival Orchestra (a massive ensemble comprised of the best jazz and classical musicians from around the UK) to showcase their pieces and it must be said that while each year features an array of fantastic vocalists, the orchestra are always the highlight of the show.
Host and well known presenter of BBC Radio 3’s J to Z, Jumoké Fashola, who claims that Jazz Voice is her favourite event of the year, introduced each performer in turn, sharing facts about their life and career, which was handy in many cases as this year’s vocalists were from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Kicking off the evening, seasoned performer and beloved UK jazz vocalist, Ian Shaw, performed the upbeat and absolutely swinging Fran Landesman and Bob Dorough tune Small Day Tomorrow. His second piece was a beautiful original song and a nod to a friend who sadly passed away entitled To Be Held that will be appearing on Shaw’s upcoming new release.
Northern Ireland based Dana Masters has made her claim to fame from touring with Van Morrison. She sang one of his songs Satisfied, with a hip call and response scat with the band at the end, and followed this with an original piece entitled Need You in the second half.
Carroll Thompson, the undisputed ‘Queen of Lovers Rock’, sang an original song in tribute to her late father entitled September – a gorgeous ballad that featured the string section of the orchestra. Second up, she and Barker re-arranged the well-known standard Perfidia in a reggae style. The nostalgic feeling had everyone singing along and smiling away.
From Tennessee, USA, Amythyst Kiah, was another lesser known artist here in the UK. Gaining herself a Grammy nomination for her song Black Myself, she performed it with guitar in hand after admitting this was her first time performing with an orchestra. The honest, anthemic vibe of her composition was catchy and surprising. In Sleeping Queen, she came out sans guitar and it was clear that she has a unique point of view and beautiful, genuine message to share through song.
British newbie on the scene, Mica Millar, won a Jazz FM award for best ‘Soul Act of The Year’ earlier this year for her debut album Heaven Knows. She performed the title track, as well as Will I See You Again for the crowd, both of which feature a 12/8 vintage soul sound giving her plenty of room to share her soaring, heart-felt vocals.
Of course, seasoned jazz fans will know the name Kurt Elling. He had worked previously with Barker when they wrote and performed his Noir Jazz Musical The Big Blind with a similar orchestra (and also featuring Ian Shaw) early in 2020. He performed one of the songs from that production entitled The Joker is Wild and also took us back into his (16 albums deep) discography to share a song from his album The Questions with music by Carla Bley. He’s recently re-recorded this on his newest album Superblue. It’s a slow list-song in the similar style to Waters of March and highlight’s Elling’s terrific ability to create imagery with his velvety voice.
The two standout performers of the evening were London born of Zimbabwean heritage Shingai. Her claim to fame was as bassist and vocalist for the band The Noisettes, but now with a solo career, she shared her original songs Too Bold and Coming Home. A true entertainer, her creativity flowed out of her in every way in costume, in voice, in stage presence. She describes her own music as an ‘experience’ and an ‘escape’ and both performances embodied this.
The final performance from Marisha Wallace, garnered her a standing ovation with her piece from the show where she’s been performing in Dream Girls And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going. Her first song, My Man, showed off her more skilled traditional broadway voice, with a rich vibrato and a nod to Barbra Streisand and Ella Fitzgerald, but it was her story-telling and powerhouse vocals that stole the show in the final song.
All performers took the stage to share an Aretha Franklin classic, Think, passing the verses around and riffing back and forth. The audience were on their feet and singing along.
This year’s voice gala showcase did not disappoint. Recorded for BBC, it is available to be listened to for anyone who feels like they might have missed out.
LISTENING LINK: Jazz Voice at BBC Sounds
Categories: Live review