Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1096

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EFG London Jazz Festival's Jazz Voice: Royal Festival Hall, London 15/11/19


Another glitzy and glamorous affair hit London's Southbank with largely stunning results, as the myriads of performers who did deliver, really did stand out, as they rose to the occasion.

Judi Jackson kicked off proceedings swimmingly with her big band take on Nirvana's "Come As You Are" a curiously timeless piece that lent itself to Guy Barker's ambitious arrangement. She also acquitted herself admirably on "Blame It On My Youth" later on. In many cases, some of the artists got swallowed whole by Barker's orchestra, but the ones with the biggest stage charisma shone through. Perhaps acoustics have something to do with it but the acts came so thick and fast, I doubt too many noticed.

The promising Jalen N'Gonda had a mixed night, his first tune typified languid soul. His soft shoe shuffle and his fine falsetto approach proved pleasing enough. His moment should have been on "Take Me To The River" with a stonking band behind him, feeding him energy with wailing horns and corruscating strings that should have put the wind in his sails. He will have to learn when giving such a magnificent opportunity, to grasp it with both hands and try to take it up a gear! This will no doubt come with further experience...

The youthful enthusiasm of Urban Flames, a 22-piece vocal collective outfit that was started two years ago by Urban Development, is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to nurturing the musical talents of young people aged 15-21, added some much-needed excitement! Their second number, the much moodier "My Mind", in many ways, was my personal highlight. It almost eclipsed the incomparable Cécile McLorin Salvant but not quite. Her clever tack of just being accompanied by a solo piano was a winning ploy. She is a jazz star and has the Grammys to prove it.

Other highlights were Cherise Adams-Burnett and pianist, Matthew Whitaker. Cherise has been causing a stir recently and it's easy to see why. She's a fine looking woman with a voice to match. She added some much-needed fun to the night by Lindy Hopping whilst doing some uptempo jive like Nat King Cole tunes. Her second number (each act did two numbers in pt. 1 and 2) saw the more sultry side of her come out in a revealing evening dress, performing sensual rhumba - she's one we've already clocked at B&S towers, it sure will be interesting watching her career develop.

18-year-old Matthew Whitaker is a terrific tour de force. He looked like a young 60's era Stevie Wonder (incidentally Wonder's music was heavily featured throughout the night) and his piano playing was quite simply electrifying. A natural whirlwind of a performer who put the orchestra through its paces with at least four-time signature changes! This was no musical exercise either, this kid has soul! And a glittering future.

It was also great to catch Raul Midón. His sonorous guitar chimed sweetly and was perfectly in sync with the 42 piece orchestra who were backing him. His "God's Dream" was a towering ballad of a song and his voice was strong and melodious. The rousing "Living Just Enough For The City" was the finale to an entertaining evening and lit the touchpaper to the start of the wonderfully eclectic EFG London Jazz Festival - go check out some acts, details on their website, and get some sublime jazz in your life pronto!

PHOTO courtesy of EFG L.J.F. / Tatiana Gorilofsky
Words Emrys Baird

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