30 November 2008

Belles on air

They named themselves the Jazzebells, so I’ll borrow the lightly sexist reference for my title. The belles are three women who perform jazz around town. I’ve been wanting to hear them for sometime, given that they’d played regularly at the Casino and elsewhere. Hannah and Olivia are performers I’ve known and watched as students, and Rachael’s name appears commonly in the CJCalendar, but I’d yet to catch her in performance. They played two sets of sometimes beautiful, consistently satisfying and broadly ranging standards, from sweet bossa-novas to strong, renowned modern jazz tunes, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I especially enjoyed the presence of vocals. I’d heard most of the tunes before and sometimes with voice. But it came back to me how the lyrics give meaning and understanding which is missing in the instrumental version. Obvious enough, really, but not always remembered in the frenzied instrumental world of jazz. I’ve commented before that voice is a thing of beauty, but words are ideas and emotions and communication, and even the lyrics of a cheesy love song can provide something otherwise missing. This was doubly so with those tunes which are seldom heard with lyrics, like Stolen moments or Whisper not.

Rachael led the band with a strong, blues-influenced voice, a smooth tremelo and capable scat, and that awareness of songs which only a singer has. But as is my wont, I particularly noticed bass and piano. Hannah showed real taste and strength in her playing. It was the strongest performance I’ve heard from her: good intonation, strong walks and perfect latin rhythms, tasteful soloing. She introduced several of the tunes. I felt a real authority and solidity from the first notes of Stolen moments and Invitation. Olivia is only a new student at the Jazz School, but she stunned me with a maturity and presence that I hadn’t expected. I felt a great sensitivity of style, while ranging over a sweep of genres. There was stride, deceptive balladic simplicity, and an altered-sounding modernism on Invitation which I hadn’t expected from her. She’s got a wonderful sense of style and feel. It’ll be exciting to watch her development over coming years. Aidan was new to me, and also to the band as he was filling in for Ed Rodrigues at the last moment. He did a great job: fairly simple, but always steady and reliable. It’s a mark of professionalism, and I have much time for it.

These are well-trained players and I’m sure no-one would have noticed, but it was interesting to be in the studio as they reminded themselves of arrangements, or changed allocations of solos at will to fit the demands of live radio. No sweat, they are confident players (not that belles would sweat, of course). And the tunes are well known and apt for frequent restaurant and café work around town: a wide range of standards and latins and well known jazz tunes. I mentioned Stolen moments, Whisper not and Invitation above. Other tunes included Foggy day, God bless the child, Waltz for Debbie, Crazy he calls me and Centerpiece, and latins Desafinado, Little boat and Dindi.

So the themes of belles may be apt, and it’s certainly cute and sells the band, but these are no lightweights. They are serious and capable musicians in the challenging (but welcoming) male-dominated domain of jazz. Thanks to the Jazzebells for a wonderful night playing a few of the great tunes of our standards repertoire.

BTW, Dean was streaming the broadcast to ustream.tv. There were bandwidth limitations so it’s certainly not perfect. He chose to optimise audio and relegate the video, so it’s very pixelated, but it’s there and a promise of future possiblities. To see these videos, go to ustream.tv and search ArtSound. He was also chatting with viewers online while streaming: one in Kaleen, another in Denmark. The wonders of this new tech!

The Jazzebells are Rachael Thoms (vocals), Olivia Henderson (piano) and Hannah James (bass), tonight joined by honorary belle, Aidan Lowe (drums).

  • ArtSound on ustream.tv
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