(Pizza Express Soho, 20 November 2022. Live review by Lavender Sutton)
New York native Catherine Russell performed in London for the first time at Dean Street Pizza Express on the final night of this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival, bringing to a close more than fifty gigs in their three London venues. Russell is the daughter of Panama-born Luis Russell (1902-1963), legendary pianist and bandleader and most notably the long-time musical director for Louis Armstrong. Her mother was well-known singer, Carline Ray. And in most interviews she is asked about her work with Steely Dan and Donald Fagen from the 1990s onwards, and with David Bowie in 2002-4 (link below).
She brought her drummer-less trio of piano, guitar and bass to promote songs from her most recent release on Dot Time, Send for Me. She’s also been nominated for 2 Grammy Awards for her albums Harlem on My Mind and Alone Together.
Russell even commented on her preference for classic “old” standards, stating that she rarely performs anything that was written past the 1950’s but why change what you’re best at? There were a few recognisable favourites like Just in Time and You Stepped Out of a Dream but she also had a knack for choosing songs that are lesser known like Errand Girl for Rhythm and Mamie Smith’s If You Don’t Get It, Tain’t No Fault of Mine.
Of course, the more bluesy numbers suited her voice best, especially in phrasing, but more so in character. She was so able to reach the audience with her humour and sassiness and this was displayed best in tunes like He May Be Your Dog But He’s Wearing My Collar and One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.
Her band was equally entertaining. Musical director, arranger and guitarist, Matt Munisteri, may have held down the fort with his classic gypsy jazz rhythm, but his solos were clever and reflective. Tal Ronen responded brilliantly to everything that was being played around him and brought the classic rich bass sound that is so prominent without a drummer. Lastly, on piano, Sean Mason, stood out with his inventive solos, full of quotations, call and response (with himself!) and just overall generous musicianship throughout the night.
It was clear that Russell was in her element and having a blast with her band. She made a real impression on everyone as the crowd gathered by the CD table to share their enjoyment with her buying merchandise and stealing selfies at the end of the evening.