The London Jazz Festival’s typically packed opening weekend finished with a bravura set from saxophonist Wayne Shorter, undiminished at 80, picking out space for solo revelation as the BBC Concert Orchestra gave his compositions classical heft. Jazz Voice, though, remains the festival’s curtain-raiser, dryly introduced by Victoria Wood and bringing together diverse singers over big band swing.
Somewhat perversely, arranger/conductor Guy Barker’s instrumental section of Shorter and Quincy Jones tunes was the night’s highlight, recalling jazz’s sharp-edged contribution to cinema and TV scores in the Fifties and Sixties, as the closing James Brown medley did the crack jazzers who split funk’s atom in Brown’s band. The vertiginous swirl of film noir strings at the start of Noel McKoy’s exhilarating take on Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” was similarly fine.
I didn’t know Annabel Williams was an X-Factor vocal coach when I heard her bellow through Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” dwarfing the words’ meaning, but should have guessed. The lulling riverside drift of Eska’s “Lazy Afternoon”, and Krystle Warren’s swooningly sensual exploration of Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia” were much better, in an uneven, ultimately rewarding vocal patchwork.