Tuesday, 21 September 2010 11:47
There was a suitably warm atmosphere at a packed Ronnie Scott’s last night as the great and the good, including club owners Sally Greene and Michael Watt, club members and the cream of UK jazz talent, paid tribute to the dearly departed house drummer Chris Dagley, who tragically died on 28 July. The fact the club sold out with tickets at £100 each, with all proceeds going to Chris’ family, was testimony to all sides of the jazz community pulling together to pay an exuberant tribute to this much loved and talented of players.
A mainly vocals-led night it was only fitting that it was Dagley’s long standing partners pianist James Pearson and bassist Sam Burgess, with dynamic drummer Dave Ohm sitting behind the kit, who kicked things off with a barnstorming take on ‘Caravan’. Feelings were running high by the end of this opening gambit, with all three turning in passionate solos, channelling them through some kinetic exchanges and a slamming final chorus. Claire Martin was up next with her superlative band – Dagley had performed with her extensively in recent years – and joined by Scots guitar great Jim Mullen, bassist Laurence Cottle (who had a very busy night depping), pianist Gareth Williams and drum ace Ian Thomas. In commanding form Martin followed her three song set with a touching duet with Ian Shaw, a heart wrenching ballad that dazzled with interweaving lines and on-the-fly piano re-harmonisations from Shaw.
One of the early, and unexpected, highlights was an appearance by Virginia-born vocal veteran Salena Jones, her molasses sweet voice recalling Nina Simone’s bittersweet melancholy on a deeply moving trio of songs. She’d hit the emotional core of the night that some of the more effusive performances had slightly avoided, albeit in celebratory tribute to Dagley’s infectious energy. Liane Carroll was also exceptional both solo at the piano and with a quartet, while Jamie Cullum’s duet with soul jazz diva Natalie Williams peaked on a particularly explosive take of the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’, that fizzed with impassioned vocals and a very fine extended piano solo from Cullum.
Yet the evening’s most affecting zenith was reached on two extraordinary songs from Carleen Anderson. Premiering a song written as a tribute to Dagley, Anderson delved once again into the pain of such a loss, playing piano while she sung, wrapping her anguished voice in dark gospel-tinged chords. Stepping centre stage, and backed by James Pearson on Fender Rhodes, with Cottle and Thomas once more on rhythm duties, Anderson performed ‘Free’. Here over a funky acid jazz groove she unleashed a high reaching vocal improvisation, seeking out upper level harmonies in a soulful outpouring of sound and emotion. It was a poignant high that reverberated across the audience, and lingered long after into the night.
– Mike Flynn
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