Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1088

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Cafe Society Swing: Theatre Royal Stratford 1/6/18

Cafe 1
Cafe 1

Alex Webb recasts his spell with a revamped version of the show, "Cafe Society Swing" which tells the true story of the first racially-desegregated jazz club in New York and this latest incarnation definitely presses all the right buttons. It is, quite simply, an old-school jazz lover's treat. A production that has now successfully transferred to the cosy Victorian styled theatre at Stratford for the next two weeks. It's a very slick show and have no doubt, full of smokey improv from some of the UK's finest jazz musicians and of course, needless to say, there are divas everywhere you turn! Webb, the playwright, pianist and demon arranger ensures that energy levels never drop below a certain standard and there are many highlights, guitarist/singer, Ciyo Brown nailing the notoriously hard "Lush Life", and Vimala Rowe's brilliant portrayal of Billie Holiday is a constant but the new additions work equally well too...

The ubiquitous China Moses turns on the heat with sass, sexiness and great scatting on "Wild Women Don't Have The Blues" (tailor-made for her!) and the late-night wooziness, where she gets to really show us her acting skills on the boozy and suggestive,"Closing Time" is a real show-stopping treat. Judi Jackson adds a slinky feline quality with the exceptional "Bad Girls Need Love Too" and her folky look i.e, 'girl in a pearl earring' back to the future Greenwich Village vibe accompanied by sumptuous acoustic guitar, is perhaps my fave of the night and is nothing to do with jazz!

Oh, and did I mention the ensemble playing? Somehow they conjure up a sound that jazz these days rarely evokes. Dave Bitelli, channelling Ben Webster is simply divine, interlinking with Tony Kofi's spry alto sax and the strident, trumpeter Sue Richardson who never fails to hit those elusive top notes either! It's all underpinned by the grounded solidity of the stoic rhythm section of Miles Danso and drummer, Andy Chapman and the tinkle twinkle of the ivories just add the icing on the cake! Trust me, these guys know a thing or two about backbeat swing! This is a unique story of a bygone age told with pathos, clarity and understanding. A must see in my book and somehow, strangely prescient of what's still happening over the pond, right now. Catch it while you can it's only on for a two-week stint...
Words Emrys Baird

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