In the mood for laughter

JAZZ James Moody, Ronnie Scott's
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The Independent Culture
James Moody doesn't so much wear his heart on his sleeve as wrap it up in a big ribbon and pass it out among the audience for them to feel as he plays. An emotional man, whose generous size and grey flecked beard incline to the Falstaffian, Moody is happy and he wants you to know it. Indeed, you have no choice in the matter, as he tells you about his blissful third marriage and how the love of a good woman and the Bahai faith (the same denomination as his late employer Dizzy Gillespie) have transformed him. Transformed him from what, he doesn't say, but Moody, who is now a remarkably spry-looking 71, has had his share of demons in the past, in the time-honoured jazz tradition.

50 years ago, he was a vital force in the most revolutionary big band ever, when, straight from service in the air force, he joined Gillespie's be-bop orchestra, touring Europe and recording inspired arrangements where the crazy-paved structures of bop were mixed with the Latin rhythms of the legendary percussionist Chano Pozo. He then became the hippest saxophonist of his time, when his first ever recording on alto sax, a version of "I'm in the Mood for Love", became a big jukebox hit. It became hipper still when the disc jockey King Pleasure added words to Moody's improvised solo, in the bop-vocalese fashion of the times.

Moody long ago claimed the Pleasure version as his own and he sings it at least once in every set. At Ronnie's, it sounded, as ever, sublime. But Moody's singing doesn't stop there. Despite the handicap of a lisp, he loves to sing nearly as much as he loves to talk, and his current show is a kind of cabaret-cum-stand-up-comedy routine. Some of the comedy is a bit desperate (the likes of "Jamaica?" "No, she came of her own accord," are not far away) and serves as a reminder that Moody spent a long exile in Las Vegas, but he's such a nice man that the audience are very indulgent. They are also very loud, taking the license granted by a star who actually acknowledges their presence as a cue for levels of chat that Ronnie's normally shushes.

But Moody can still play a bit too, and his versions of "Night in Tunisia", Jobim's "Wave" (which he plays beautifully on flute) and, of course, "Mood for Love" are expertly done. As a vocalist he may not be Frank Sinatra, the vocalist his new album Young at Heart (WEA) is dedicated to, with Moody lisping along like Tweetie-Pie on a truly bizarre version of the title track, but he's a good old boy for all that.

8.30pm, tonight, Frith St, London, W1 (0171-437 5081)