Live reviews

Tessa Souter at The Pheasantry

Tessa Souter with Jim Watson, Conor Chaplin and Billy Drummond

(Pizza Pheasantry. 20 January 2023. First night of two. Review by Lavender Sutton)

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L-R: Conor Chaplin, Jim Watson. Billy Drummond, Tessa Souter

Vocalist Tessa Souter has made her way back over the pond from her home in New York for two nights at The Pheasantry Pizza Express in Chelsea. She’s known for her unique take on a variety of jazz standards – and oftentimes the lesser known, lesser sung ones. 

A protégée of Mark Murphy, some of her choices are distinctly reminiscent of his style and ilk, like her arrangement of Equinox and Afro Blue but as the night continued, more of Souter’s personality came through as she shared some of her musical influences, stories and inspirations. 

The variety of her song selections, coupled with the uniqueness of her original arrangements made it obvious that Souter’s so comfortable on stage, anything could happen and it would probably be great. Despite only meeting the pianist and bassist earlier that day, her relationship with them was built on trust. She trusted them to do “what they would” with the music and she’d be fine with it. 

Of course it helps to have such a trustworthy bunch. A less familiar name on piano accompaniment, Jim Watson, was a real highlight in the band. His delicate interpretations of Souter’s arrangements and his fantastically exhilarating solos developed intrigue with each new song. The brilliant, risen star bassist Conor Chaplin is always a treat to hear. He was featured quite a lot, as Souter enjoyed singing duo with him to introduce a few different tunes. Her husband Billy Drummond filled the drum chair, and though his face never gave much away, when it came time for a drum solo, we got it all and more. The other band members looked on enthusiastically as his ideas unravelled. 

The first half of the show was dedicated to a more familiar repertoire but with a twist – like her overlay of Save Your Love For Me (the Buddy Johnson/Nancy Wilson/ Cannonball Adderley song) over the Herbie Hancock tune Maiden Voyage, and her take on Pure Imagination and You Only Live Twice

The second half was a deeper look into some real ‘jazz heavyweight’ material that Souter adapted to sing. McCoy Tyner’s Contemplation (titled Ancestors) and Freddie Hubbard’s Little Sunflower and Wayne Shorter’s Ana Maria were all part of the mix. It showed off her skills as a lyricist and also placed her on a shelf of her own with regards to just being a ‘typical singer’.

An overall thrilling evening with distinctive choices, expertly sung. Catch her again, or delve into her discography to see what other music she’s explored.

Billy Drummond. Photo credit Paul Wood

Categories: Live reviews

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