The Vocal Jazz Summit - The Spice of Life, Wednesday 21 November - London Jazz Festival

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My vain expectations of a manly explosive vocal brew left me with a half-empty stomach last Wednesday at the Spice of Life. Tastefully accompanied by double bassist Steve Watts and drummer David Wickins under the dedicated eye of Paul Pace, the backstage venue’s heartbeat, the Vocal Jazz Summit (Pete Churchill pictured right, Iain Mackenzie, Anton Browne) served the audience with a refined, yet overly traditional, three-course bill. The Vocal Jazz Summit - The Spice of Life, Wednesday 21 November - London Jazz Festival
Delight, wit, and nerve seasoned Churchill’s five starters. Seated at the upright piano, his back facing the audience, the skilful pianist, vocalist, and music professor at the Guildhall still awoke the audience’s appetite with a Cuban jazz version of Ellington’s ‘Do nothing till your hear from me’. The trio then closed on Mercer’s ‘I’m travelling light’, “a cockeyed optimist lament” for Churchill.

Hungry for more, I thought we’d moved directly to dessert when Mackenzie, who shares an interesting resemblance with actor Julian McMahon, alias Nip/Tuck’s raunchy plastic surgeon Christian Roy, took the stage. But, even with a cold that made him “feel rubbish”, the slick Bebop vocalist, pianist, and Academic Head of Vocaltech soon stood out as a substantial pièce de resistance. A natural leader, whose previous appearance with his Big Band demonstrated, Mackenzie lifted the refinement to precise, pitch-perfect, bouncy phrasing and upbeat, syncopated scat solos. His interpretations of ‘That’s all’, Sinatra’s ‘My kinda girl’, Bossa-Nova-flavoured ‘On a Clear Day’, and finally ‘I’ve got you under my skin’, from his album Twice on Sunday, sounded fearsomely meticulous and inventive.

Charismatic multi-instrumentalist Browne’s cliché-based guitar solos and soulful, gospel-rooted vocal inflections then took over. Following a crunchy ‘There will never be another you’ and Williams’s ‘Shake rattle and roll’, the three vocalists eventually delivered a closing flash collaboration. A pinch of Ian Shaw would have definitely spiced things up, but I’m never satisfied, anyway.

Aurore Mary