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Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Pleasantry at The Pheasantry

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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5 November

This is a review of Edana Minghella’s quartet gig on 2 November at Pizza Express’ jazz club in The Kings Road, The Pheasantry, with personnel Sarah Bolter (tenor and (curved) soprano sax, flute), Pete Maxfield (double bass), and Mick Smith (piano)

Declaration of interest : Trust me that I am being impartial, though Edana and I Follow each other on Twitter (as a consequence of having made the connection that I was at university with one of her sisters). However, this means that I cannot – because it does not sound right – adopt my usual approach and call her Minghella…

How can one capture a gig ? Go through the set-list, number by number, commenting on each ? Maybe, but, not that a review should document as such, here is the set-list for the gig (provided, complete with attributions, at lightning speed by Edana):

1. Bring a little water, Sylvie (Traditional, this version attributed to Leadbelly, aka Huddie Ledbetter)

2. Teach me to-night (Gene De Paul & Sammy Cahn)

3. Speak low (Kurt Weill, lyrics Ogden Nash)

4. Catch the wind (Donovan)

5. Who can I turn to? (Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley)

6. A little sugar in my bowl (originally as sung by Bessie Smith, written by Clarence Williams, J. Tim Brymn, Dally Small; this version reworked by Nina Simone)

7. All or nothing at all (Arthur Altman, Lyrics by Jack Lawrence)

8. With Guillermo Rozenthuler : Corcovado in medley with Vivo Sonhando (both by Antonio Carlos Jobim)

9. With Guillermo Rozenthuler : You and the night and the music (Arthur Schwartz, lyrics by Howard Dietz)

10. The King of Rome (David Sudbury)

11. Down with love (Harold Arlen, lyrics by E Y Harburg)

Encore : Don’t look back in anger (Noel Gallagher)

If we want to talk about Edana’s voice, it takes some courage – voices and nerves being what they are – to open one’s set a capella (1) and in a very unadorned, unaccented way (joined later by understated tenor), and it was not the only point at which we saw such fortitude.

The actual quality of Edana’s voice I describe as like silk, with honeyed tones, and sometimes lightly breathy. Less nasal than Stacey Kent (and with more of a range ?), Edana’s vocal quality reminded me of her, though their approach to phrasing, and to swinging a tune, is quite different.

However, you can judge for yourself, by going to her web-site, and having a listen to a couple of tracks from her CD Still on my Feet (you have to sign up to some innocuous application – at least, it seemed benign when I did so).

Back at the gig, we had a standard next (2), which I have certainly heard Stacey Kent perform. Edana used rubato to give the impression that the number was fighting to get off the leash, and that, at any moment, the tenor would rock it up. It was a teasing exercise in restraint, and she introduced minute hesitations to bring out the thrill in the words :

Should / the teacher / stand

By now, all members of the trio had joined in, and they next (3) gave us the repetitive irregular pattern of what I identified with as a rumba, piano and bass a solid rhythm section, with repeated spread chords from the former. (Yes, it is Kurt Weill, and I do not know what the arrangement was.) I believe that Edana let that accentuation speak for itself, but allowed the bar-lines to be flexible to do so, and was joined, in a neat matching of register, on soprano sax.

In introducing the next item (4), an audience request from Lesley, Edana dedicated it to anyone who had the experience of having walked along the sand with someone who is no longer there, and it was a beautiful, reflective number, called Catch the wind – a number that had a distinctive run of three notes before a rise, then, after a pause, repeating that note twice and descending, evocative, perhaps, of currents of air. It was given a straight run-through, with Edana’s voice floating above the accompanying forces.

Which brings me to a brief interude, on jazz-singers and their bands. As important as knowing one’s personnel is, what matters more is rapport and responsiveness – I recall one saxophonist, playing with eyes closed (and maybe thinking that he was Coltrane), distending a solo beyond the comfort of the singer, given that it was desired to resume the mood established for the lyric. ‘In proportion’ is another phrase that springs to mind, and that is what the dynamics of Edana with her trio seemed to be.

Examples have already been given where voice matched instrument(s), and, although it is always impressive when a pianist can go off on an impassioned train of thought or a sax-player go through some runs and riffs, a reliable group of musicians, in sympathy with the approach to the song, counts for a lot more. So, although Mick Smith took a solo in (5), it was clear that this is not his thing, but creating texture.

That song, which Edana introduced by quoting the lines ‘Who can I turn to when nobody needs me ?’, began with just piano and bass, and led to a balanced sax solo. Edana’s singing was with love, and projecting through the accompaniment as the words unfolded. Then Edana completely changed the mood (6) with a bluesy Bessie Smith number (though not trying to imitate her gravelly attack), where she brought out phrases such as ‘Wanna little sweetness down in my soul’, and let these suggestive appeals to ‘Daddy’ speak for themselves, so that the well-delivered lyric did the work for her : some singers can tend to suggest insufficient faith in the words, and the music that supports them, and so more can become less.

In the next song (7), Edana drew out the phrase ‘Half a love never appealed to me’, and was just backed by the bass, who gave us some slapped notes (and some harmonies that sounded a bit like the James Bond theme). Unlike Claire Martin’s recorded version, she chose to understate the impact, so that we could just concentrate on the duo, the melody against the chords in the bass.

The next two numbers (8, 9) were duets with Guillermo Rozenthuler, who had performed the shorter first set (and had had Edana as a guest for a song), the first ‘a sort of’ medley, where they felt very assured in each other’s vocal company, and then the team work of a song where they sang to and with each other. Both had solos, and Guillermo dazzled with his, in true scat style.

What I would draw from this is that it takes real class to be able to invite another performer to the stage and to fit into his or her style – it was clear from the anecdote told after the first song, about Edana visiting him for a singing lesson (and which unintentionally developed in a chaotically humorous way – the anecdote, that is), that the two know each other well, but that is not the point.

The proof was in the song that Edana said that June Tabor, heard live and recorded, had inspired her to sing (10), in which, after the liveliness of what had preceded, she was confident in respecting the feel of this simple song in the folk idiom. Sparsely accompanied by piano, and latterly by a tremulous flute, Edana gave the lyric its full meaning and weight, in an adept transition from the numbers with Guillermo.

The final song of the set (11) began with a slow introduction, where, with her strong diction, Edana was projecting the key notes, and developed into the more complicated rhythms of patter, which seemed all the faster for the held-back opening, and which she handled with assurance. Any slips in that sort of material are unforgiving, but there were none.

As an encore, Oasis, but in disguise, so the words ‘take that look from off your face’ took me unawares. At first, there were some Basseyesque qualities in Edana’s singing, and she was splitting notes across neighbouring ones for emphasis. Once I realized what the song was, it had a meditative quality in this arrangement (with tenor filling in the texture), and at this tempo, which made a good number on which to finish.

A thoroughly enjoyable and versatile set from a singer who has the ability and personality to go far.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)


Anonymous said...

Well I was very sorry to miss my big sister's gig - but now I've read your review, I feel I know just what I missed. Thanks for such a detailed and thoughtful account. Glad you enjoyed it! Best wishes, L

The Agent Apsley said...

Hey, Edana said that you were out of town, but I'm really pleased that this piece made you feel that you made it !