REVIEW OF JUDY ARGO CONCERT
Jazz JUDY ARGO Pizza on the Park, London
Wednesday 02 August 1995
She's also the type of impeccably smooth, exquisitely phrased, bracingly professional, wee small hours jazz vocalist who can sometimes seem, in this tiresomely trendy time when singers believe their job is to inject emotion into a tune rather than extract it, a museum artefact. She believes in shamelessly old-fashioned things. Things like breath control (and you will do, too, when she sails up the register, only to come down roaring and shouting), finding just the right inflection - hear her detonation of "You rascal you" on the revenge number "Goody Goody" - and defying fashion to locate and lavish affection on material that others might dismiss as a) dated, b) done to death, and c) strictly lounge act.
Actually, Argo, fresh from entertaining the notoriously hard to please at Danny's Skylight Room and the Tavern on the Green in New York and making her British debut at Pizza on the Park, has made shrewd, rather than safe, choices. "I Got the World on a String", "The Very Thought of You" and "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" are familiar enough titles for attention to automatically shift to what the singer is doing to them; belting and caressing in the same phrase, her bourbon-over-ice voice working out the kinks in words you thought had not only stiffened from age, but fossilised. Argo's motto might be "Don't wing it - swing it" (her backing musicians are just the three men to help execute the motto to the letter), yet her way with a ballad - very Peggy, very Ella, very four o'clock in the morning - is silky in the approved Hollywood manner. You know the scene: it's an after-hours dive, the chanteuse slides up to the mike, asks for the lights to be lowered because she's got a bit of mileage on her, and then growls her heartbroken way through "A Woman's Intuition". Which Argo does, taking the cliche and squeezing it till it offers up a little blood, a little real life.
It would be hard to claim that Argo is a find - many remember a career that began in the Sixties, only to be derailed by the bottle - but she's certainly something rare; an artist who knows what she's doing - a good pair of hands and a great set of pipes. As a member of the audience shouted when the lady mentioned that Pizza on the Park had brought her over especially, "Smart move."
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