Melody Gardot preaches soulful blues and funk at Pizza Express

Having recently reviewed her gritty new album, Currency of Man, as well as interviewing her in Soho the day she launched her salutory single ‘Preacherman’, I was very much looking forward to seeing Melody Gardot perform live. It was the final night of her two month European tour, and after some large stadium gigs, she’d chosen to play to just a hundred or so people at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London.

Her eight-piece band, which included an energetic horn section (Irwin Hall on tenor, James Casey on baritone sax and Shareef Clayton on trumpet) created an engaging sound to complement Gardot’s sultry radio-mic vocals, as they toured us through their new material. It’s a dynamic mix of bluesy, North African-infused songs that dwell on the human condition and our purpose in life. Drawing the audience in with a question or a snippet of philosophy, Gardot effortlessly went on to reproduce what on the album comes across as tasteful post-production, making it abundantly clear that her abilities as a live performer easily match her song-writing and arranging skills. She also plays a mean guitar and piano, providing the crux of each song’s arrangement with elegance and ease, while her voice stretches out into coolly improvised territory.

MelodyGardot2

Aware of her audience’s jazz expectations, early on in the set she teasingly dispelled any idea we would be hearing her do jazz standards. She did however pay tribute to Charlie Haden, with whom she performed on several occasions, and later treated us to a fabulous medley dedicated to Charles Mingus, expertly introduced by Edwin Livingston on double bass, with a Roland Kirk-style double saxophone solo from Irwin Hall and Gardot accompanying on piano. I loved the backing vocals and percussive contributions throughout from guitarist Mitchell Long and the subtle and sometimes whistled interjections from Devin Greenwood on keys. But drummer Chuck Staab almost stole the show, providing a deadly kick to every number.

MelodyGardot1

‘Preacherman’ which Gardot co-wrote with Staab turned into something of a cosmic invocation as Gardot invited her audience to leave a vibrational trace of the evening in the room by singing along with her. ‘Bad News’ felt like a bar-room brawl brewing, ‘Morning Sun’ by contrast was deliciously delicate and pared back, and for the encore, the band flared up into full-on funk as they launched into ‘It Gonna Come’ by which point the lyric ‘see dat man’ took on a whole other meaning as she re-introduced her fellow musicians.

By the end of her 100 minute set, Gardot pushed the gig into an intense jam-like territory with everyone up dancing, including the bar staff and the septuagenarians in the front row, making it hard to believe it was a Tuesday night in a pizza restaurant. It will no doubt go down as one of the real highlights of the club
s 50th anniversary celebrations.

– Sarah Chaplin


– Photos by Roger Thomas

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