Cherise Adams-Burnett, Elgar Room – EFG London Jazz Festival 2018


Jazz vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett’s gig in the Elgar Room of The Royal Albert Hall was a tale of two halves. The performance began as a piano quartet with Olly Sarkar on drums, Louis van der Westhuizen on double bass and Gabriel Piers-Mantell on piano with Cherise displaying her expressive scat style in this intimate setting. Then after the interval more instruments were incorporated with a small string section, backing vocalists and trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi (who plays in Moses Boyd's Exodus).

Cherise contributes flute, and this bigger sound gives the songs a richer harmony reminiscent of Kamasi Washington’s spiritual jazz. Furthermore, the music has a freer, driven and imperfect approach almost straying into prog-rock territory on tunes like ‘Fickle Feelings’. The soon-to-be-released original material clearly comes from a range of inspirations and was well received in this sold-out room. The songs have a heartfelt honesty to their lyrics and come with some smart hooks. The only standard of the night was ‘Skylark’, with which Cherise pays homage to her jazz forebears with this melancholy tune.

Later, the ensemble performs a response to ‘Skylark’ entitled ‘Felicity’, which is well thought out with beautiful vocal harmonies and subtle string melodies. Cherise’s vocal style can be described as confident and exuberant with an inquisitive innocence and curiosity. She’s clearly been well-trained during her conservatoire studies and rarely a bum note is heard, but the vibrancy of her timbre makes it all feel a little inauthentic and forced. It’s particularly noticeable when she slips in to her local Lutonian accent from something akin to the American masters Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. However, this delivery is not required on tunes like ‘Fickle Feelings’, which has a reggae off-beat rhythm and Cherise gives a more conversational pop performance much like Lily Allen is known for. She cites more contemporary artists like Lauryn Hill and Whitney Huston as well as 'golden age' legends but not much here is grooving neo-soul as was expected. The closest the set gets to this is the funky ‘Undercover Dreamer’, but it never really captures the imagination of the audience.

Fred Neighbour