Jacqui Dankworth & Band |
at the Wetherby Festival,
(25 October 2003)
From the moment jazz singer Jacqui Dankworth and her smartly dressed band struck up the first chords of "Blue Moon" from her new album As the Sun Shines Down on Me, it was obvious we were in for a superb evening. In an intimate and eclectic set extending over two hours, Jacqui proved beyond doubt that she's a singer whose music defies categorisation. Her style is truly crossover, embracing jazz, blues, Latin, pop and folk music, and her delivery this evening was perfect, oozing with nuance as her dynamic voice ranged the scales: husky and sensual at one moment, soaring and powerful at the next.
At times, particularly at the end of each number, you could have heard a pin drop as Jacqui and her band brought the song to a close. Her vocal ability should come as no surprise, for she is the daughter of British jazz musicians Dame Cleo Laine and John Dankworth. Her voice is every bit as versatile as her mother's, with striking resonances too of American jazz singer Norah Jones. This was a flawless performance from one of the UK's most exceptional female vocalists -- it was a rare privilege to be able to see her in my hometown.
Three members of her band Field of Blue, plus a guest pianist, provided superb support; they were in inspired and very fluid form. This was a performance that allowed you to really savour the beautifully improvised playing of some of the UK's finest jazz musicians -- an absolute pleasure for a person of my musical tastes! Alec Dankworth (Jacqui's brother) played double bass and is a truly exceptional player who I'd rate alongside the greats like Charlie Haden. Manchester-born Mike Outram simply dazzled on electric guitar; his playing was so consistently empathic alongside Jacqui's voice -- he was without doubt my musician of the evening, playing with incredible feeling. Mike is professor of jazz guitar at an English university and records and tours extensively. Roy Dodds was superb on drums and percussion, revealing an astonishing range of rhythm and playing styles. Guest pianist was Malcolm Edmonstone, who displayed a delightfully sure touch. The four excelled throughout the set.
This was without shadow of a doubt one of the most enjoyable live performances I've ever seen, and this event turned out to be my personal highlight event of Wetherby Festival 2003! Jacqui, in a beautifully relaxed and assured performance, worked her way through an astonishing range of material. Some of it was self-penned, such as the wonderfully upbeat "As the Sun Shines Down on Me" (title track of her new album) and "Miracle" -- the notes to the promotional CD tell me that the album was recorded following a period of turbulence in Jacqui's life, and these lovely songs mark her re-emergence "into the light." Another absolute highlight was "Nuestro Tema," sung in Spanish (Jacqui told us she was brought up by Spanish nannies), where the Latin rhythms and improvisations were quite simply sensational.
The first half of the set was if anything more upbeat than the second, where the mood was very definitely mellower, more reflective and on occasion downright sensual -- her lyrics cover the whole gamut of human experience. Her cover versions of standards by such renowned composers as Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder were brilliantly improvised, and offered the listener a true fusion of musical styles. It was fabulous too to see the chemistry between the band members; each knew just when to step back to allow the other to lead, and their eye contact and rapport with each other was clear to see. Jacqui certainly seemed to love to stand back and visibly enjoyed the incredible solo improvisations.
As always with live music of such a high standard, Jacqui and her band's performance this evening sounded even better than it does on the album. A truly peerless performance, and a real coup for my local festival's inspired organisers! I've spoken with a few people since this gig who've remarked that Jacqui is one of the best live performers they've ever seen, too -- a truly marvelous performer!