Linley Weir sings Stevie and Elling at Pizza Express Jazz Club

This is the third in a trio of vocal-led Sunday lunchtime gigs I’ve attended at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in the last few weeks, and it was easily the most ambitious of the three. Linley Weir is a singer with a compelling, almost spiritual presence, and a strong command of the jazz idiom. She presented a wide arc of material capturing all her vocal qualities, writing skills and rhythmic feel. Starting with a couple of well-known latin standards, ‘No More Blues’ and ‘Besame Mucho’, she led her band into other less well-trodden territory with ‘Travelling Man’, an innovative Kurt Elling number and a nicely phrased and reharmonised version of ‘In A Sentimental Mood’. Acknowledging the occasion of Mother’s Day, she’d even penned a new tune about a mother’s love, which was very well received.

In the second set, Weir really got into her stride, showcasing another of her own songs ‘Flyaway’, a driving, flowing tour de force. The audience was also treated to a soulful, heartfelt rendition of ‘If I Ruled the World’, which featured a beautifully melancholic harmonica solo from bassist Andy Hamill, and had a fabulous ending which left everyone hanging.

John Crawford is Linley’s pianist of choice, and his muscular feel and extended harmonies perfectly complement her chocolaty tone. Equally fitting was her decision to perform Jobim’s joyful songs ‘The Waters of March’, with its bucolic lyrics of haiku-like simplicity. At times the two of them wove their instruments together like one seamless texture, all pleasingly accented by Simon Pearson on drums and Hamill, delicate but forthright on bass.

If I were to make any comparisons about Linley’s voice it’s like Eliane Elias mingled with Stevie Wonder, especially when she’s singing the Stevie song ‘Send One Your Love’, showcasing her captivating low register and the pure, steady sound across her entire range. We had some glimpses of her scatting too, which is inventive, lively and free. Weir approaches each song with an intelligent freshness, altering the melody here and there with effective new touches, which worked particularly well with Annie Ross’s song ‘Twisted’, taking us away from the Joni Mitchell version into an infectious bluesy all-out party-piece. All in all, a most enjoyable lunch date.

– Sarah Chaplin

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