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Liane Carroll, St George’s, Dec 12

December 15, 2013

I’d heard Liane Carroll on recordings and seen video, but neither prepared for the impact she makes live. There’s a richly expressive voice (“this song used to be in A but 20 years of Capstan full strength and now it’s in G”, she joked, and while she was having fag outside after the gig it isn’t quite as weathered as that suggests), and – less widely recognised, I think – she’s a really very good piano player.

She improvises her chat as well as during the songs, with plenty of quirky asides to the audience – who were quick to respond (though there could have been more of us). And, really, she doesn’t need anyone else up there, though we had the benefit of a trio: husband Roger Carey on electric bass and trumpeter – and producer of her recordings – James McMillan. The latter is a brilliant musician, but a little too studied for this music, to my mind. Still, he gave great support. Also – a nice touch – there was a guest spot for another excellent singer, and recent Bristol returnee, Sarah Colman: it would be good to hear more from her in 2014.

But it was Carroll’s evening. She showed her versatility with songs identified with Peggy Lee (twice), Nine Simone (ditto), a Tom Waits ballad, Shane McGowan’s Fairytale of New York (you know, for Christmas), her patented twinning of Old Devil Moon with Benny Golson’s Killer Joe and a blithe and boppish I Got Rhythm, topped and tailed by Confirmation. For two sets, everything she sang was transfixing. Just watching her make minute adjustments to her address to the mike is a masterclass in itself. She can even make scat singing sound good, a facility normally only granted to two or three people on the planet at any one time. The approach mostly sounds conventional, but there is a lot of very ambitious stuff going on here, and both the voice and the technique are more than up to it. Cassandra Wilson came to mind more than  once. Listening on CD, I’m not convinced she’s yet found her equivalent of Craig Street, who pinned down the definitive Wilson sound as producer on Blue Light ’til Dawn, and I’d love to hear a record that stripped down. But on stage she’s a match for anyone. A class act, and a fine way to end St George’s Jazz season.

Well, it wasn’t quite the end, as there was an after hours session with Jon Herbert, who sounded great but as neither I nor the other pair of ears were feeling that great we headed home, well pleased with the main show.

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