Christine Tobin kisses Cohen at Ronnie Scott’s


Green-hatted blarney is blessedly absent from Ronnie Scott’s on St. Patrick’s Day. Instead, Ireland’s Christine Tobin is launching her gorgeous new album of Leonard Cohen songs, A Thousand Kisses Deep. With her full quartet and guest trumpeter Nick Smart, she further explores the chiselled profundities and sly enigmas of this bone-deep bohemian singer-songwriter, who suits and enriches the jazz songbook.

Where Barb Jungr’s current album and show Hard Rain look to Cohen (and Dylan) for politics and philosophy in unjust times, Tobin finds the melancholy, deeply romantic torrents, which flood 'Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye', or the Lorca-inspired 'Take This Waltz'. There’s a feeling of heightened emotion in Ronnie’s intimacy, an atmosphere of love and sorrow from looking at and listening to her as she sways and gives her all to these songs. A lot of vows would be renewed if this was Valentine’s Day, and quick; because in Cohen’s love songs, a funeral’s never far away.

Tobin’s range swoops low and crests high. Most importantly, she feels all the pain and humour in words, which are crafted to such finely weighted points, you hardly feel the blades sink in. She brings Cohen’s emotions fully to the surface, as if suffering them herself. The Biblical Story of Isaac unfolds with grisly, horror film clarity, Phil Robson’s electric guitar adding harsh squalls to its anger at religious extremism. Double-bassist Dave Whitford and percussionist Adriano Adewale play an extended intro each, and Smart gives a Miles-style fanfare to 'Dance Me To The End Of Love'. But improvisation and Tobin’s scat are in efficient service to the songs, letting the album versions breathe a touch more, but never forgetting the words.

Tobin’s long-time collaborator Huw Warren’s accordion is at the heart of many arrangements, sounding exotic and clipped, and refashioning 'Suzanne' as a zydeco barnstormer. He’s Tobin’s sole accompanist on piano for Anthem, which Cohen took 10 years to write, and is a slow ache of healing wisdom here. “They’ve summoned up a thundercloud, and they’re gonna hear from me,” the lyrics also threaten, in a fury at the wars leaders unleash made greater by Cohen’s conviction that this won’t ever change.

Though Tobin isn’t as centrally motivated by such wider injustices as Jungr, she misses nothing here, or in 'Everybody Knows' apocalyptic, hilarious panorama of disgrace. She adds a couple of her own songs - more rock-oriented, and inevitably lesser lyrically, though not out of place. But it’s the gently heart-rending encore of Billie Holiday’s 'God Bless the Child', which seals a warmly humane night.

– Nick Hasted