Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Jazz gymnastics

Perth Festival review: Jazzmeia Horn ⋅
Perth Concert Hall, March 1 ⋅
Reviewed by Ron Banks ⋅

Texas-born jazz singer Jazzmeia Horn has an extraordinary voice no doubt about that.

It’s a big voice; one that can soar into the stratosphere, explore the depths of a song, whisper, cajole, shout, scream like a two-year old, ease through a jazz ballad with nonchalance and style or scat and burble sounds that reshape your thinking about how the jazz idiom should be presented.

Her jazz heritage is the likes of singers such as Betty Carter or Ella Fitzgerald, but she takes their material and gives it a fresher, more daring and adventurous edge.

Her opening number was the old standard Willow Weep for Me, refreshed by her remarkable vocal range into something  strange and mysterious. It set the pattern for the kind of vocal gymnastics that show how the human voice is not yet done with re-invention and re-interpretation.

More standards were to follow – a medley of Tenderly, The Nearness of You and Misty, for example – each number crafted with a subtlety and delicacy that suggest a mind and voice working overtime to overturn established conventions of vocal delivery.

She can also get into the be bop tradition like an instrumentalist rather than a vocalist – that talent at full play in her interpretation of Charlie Parker’s little-known Au Privave. It’s not the kind of number for the faint-hearted performer.

If Horn has a fault, it’s that she is, for some perhaps, too inventive, too versatile, too willing to go out on a limb in her artistry rather than stay within the normal confines of how a song should sound. But if that’s a fault, give it to me any day.

With this big versatile voice comes a big personality; Horn likes to chat with her audience, invite them into her world. Remarkable for a jazz singer (rather than a showbiz singer) she successfully involved the audience in a call-and-response encounter based on, of all numbers, Cole Porter’s Night and Day.

That number morphed into the audience chanting back phrases about self-esteem (”love yourself, love your skin”). It could have sounded corny but it wasn’t. It was pleasurable for both the singer and the audience.

Horn is now based in New York and brought with her musicians of great subtlety and craft in pianist Victor Gould, bassist Barry Stephenson and drummer Henry Conerway. Their ability to follow or to lead the singer down new pathways was deeply pleasurable.

The Perth Festival has been short on ground-breaking jazz performers in recent years, but Jazzmeia Horn’s presence this year signals that great jazz is always just a phone call away. Horn deserves to become an international star of the art form.

Photo top: Jazzmeia Horn. Photo Jacob Blickenstaff

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