Jarrod Lawson get his mojo working at Ronnie Scott’s

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Two sold-out nights at an iconic British venue for an American artist, who barely six months ago, was a complete unknown says many things about the geo-commercial mechanics of the modern music industry. Firstly, as the Portland, Oregon vocalist-pianist Jarrod Lawson acknowledges, the support lent to him by media and audiences in London has been a significant factor in the upswing of his fortunes. Secondly, the act of putting music on iTunes can pay dividends in the long term. Thirdly, real talent will out. With the deafening buzz surrounding these gigs and the imminent release of Lawson’s eponymous debut album, he has to show and prove, and he does so and then some, pretty much from the downbeat.

The string of tracks from the album – ‘Music And Its Magical Way’, ‘Sleepwalkers’, ‘Together We’ll Stand’ and ‘Everything I Need’ – match if not top the beauty of the studio performance, and the heavily jazz-inflected soul, with myriad chord changes, shifts of tempo and melodic richness, has the audience on-side in no uncertain terms. Executed by a very able band [drums, bass, guitar, two backing vocalists] augmented by the impressive flugelhorn player Farnell Newton, the music comes alive by way of Lawson’s precise, well-measured lead vocal, which often works the falsetto range without cheap tricks and harmonises excellently with the other singers.

With refreshing honesty, Lawson name-checks Donny Hathaway, which makes perfect sense given the blend of intricacy and emotion in his material but the other legends that spring to mind are George Duke, for the piquant Afro-Brazilian rhythms, and Don Blackman, for the combination of subtlety and earthiness in the song structures. The use of the lower reaches of Newton’s horn as an effective counterweight to the high flutter of the vocals is an artistic choice that Blackman himself may have appreciated, but if Lawson fits neatly into this historical lineage then more recent references are also appropriate.

Some of the more ecstatic, edgy unison vocals recall a certain Lewis Taylor while the beauty of the writing makes a Frank McComb comparison also inevitable. In fact, Lawson was actually asked to fill in for the latter on a Capital Jazz cruise gig a few years ago, and given the fact that McComb, and Taylor, for that matter, have been maddeningly AWOL it goes without saying that the new singer on the block appears to be filling something of a gap. Talking of which, Lawson does one sole cover: ‘One Mo Gin’ by none other than D’Angelo. What price a D’Jarrodlo duet if the sugar man ever brings his voodoo back?

– Kevin Le Gendre

See the live stream of the gig below: