Polly Gibbons gets passionate at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Having been a fan of Polly Gibbons' vocal and songwriting artistry ever since a review copy of her debut What's The Real Reason popped through my letterbox back in 2006, this UK launch of her latest album on Resonance Records, Is It Me...?, served to confirm her compelling gift as a storyteller, one of the multifarious reasons why she was a Jazz FM Award nominee for Vocalist of the Year.

Gibbons possesses incredible technical facility, as evidenced from the get-go both in the virtuosic run right to the top of her range in 'Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams' and the way in which every note is absolutely centred, but it's her emotional sincerity and the way she makes her material resonate in an entirely personal way which makes her such a persuasive performer.

Featuring pianist James Pearson, an outstanding presence throughout, guitarist Al Cherry, bassist Chris Dodd and drummer Saleem Raman, the band limbered up with a jaunty account of 'I've Never Been in Love Before', penned by Frank Loesser and excerpted from the brilliant Guys and Dolls. Other first set highlights included an adroitly layered 'Comes Love', a sumptuous 'Wild is the Wind' (one of the new album's stand-outs) and an adrenalised 'Love For Sale'.

Set two unfolded with even greater force and conviction, beginning with the joyously swinging title track co-written by Gibbons and Pearson, and taking in an impassioned 'Dr. Feelgood', a heart-warming 'Sack Full of Dreams', plus the self-penned title track from Gibbons' 2014 album My Own Company, "about getting used to one's own head", she noted.

Written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr., and performed here as an intimate piano/vocal duet, 'Don't Explain' saw the singer mining untold depths of melancholy, squeezing the bitter-sweetness out of every note against the backdrop of Pearson's increasingly rhapsodic accompaniment. Delivered with a seismic power and dramatic sweep, a brace of classic blues, 'I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl' and 'Trouble In Mind', brought the evening to a rambunctious close.

– Peter Quinn

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