Alex Scheuerer/Najwa Ezzaher Band
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 10 July 2023. Live review by Milo Brooke-Scarlett)
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Swiss guitarist and London resident Alex Scheuerer serves up a dynamically rich approach on his instrument, seducing us like George Benson with flowing, melodic and precise lines but moving through the gears with searing climactic motifs when the right time comes. His is the dominant instrumental voice of this outstanding 7-piece, but charismatic and impassioned French-Moroccan singer Najwa Ezzaher truly brings the sass and focus, offering a dazzling stage presence without detracting from the other stellar musicians around her.
Describing the band’s sound as a fusion of styles drawing (unusually) from French chanson, sophisticated funk and neo-soul with occasional garage-derived beats, isn’t adequate because it may suggest an identity crisis. But in reality, Scheuerer and Ezzaher’s music feels accessible, organic and natural with the French influence lending it a romanticism and heartfelt elegance that underpins the sumptuous chord changes, exciting soloing and harmonic detours.
A magnificent rhythm section of Mike Horne on drums, Paul Michael on bass and Chris Jerome on keys guided the ensemble through charts spanning simple but beguiling grooves (‘Rivage’, ‘Flirting with Sounds’) to more labyrinthine song structures. Freddie Gavita on trumpet (depping for Graeme Flowers) and Chris Rand on sax brought choppy, sharply punctuated horn lines and rip-roaring solos.
Standout tracks, many drawn from the brand new album La Vie En Soul, included ‘Beirut’ with its Middle Eastern vibe and terrific trumpet solo over double tempo feel, and the 1970s chanson hit by Joe Dassin ‘L’été Indien’ – a most surprising choice by a hip fusion outfit, but sung in French with authentic gallic flair by Ezzaher. Likewise Françoise Hardy’s ‘Mon amie la rose’ from 1965 was delicately rendered and refreshingly arranged. Another wonderful romantic old French tune given exactly the right level of respect while updating the feel was Serge Gainsbourg’s La Javanaise.
A Scheuerer original, ‘Write a Song’, meanwhile, encapsulated the harmonic smarts of Steely Dan with its flow of tonal centres and perfectly calibrated mood shifts.
The rapturous response from the audience, who were obviously delighted to be so thoroughly entertained on a Monday night, indicated that this engaging, imaginative but above all musical band is ready for bigger stages and festival settings throughout Europe.