JVC Jazz Festival: A class act scores the winning goal

Carmen Lundy, Mezzo; Mark Murphy, Pizza Express Jazz Club
Until they start programming lounge acts in the concourse of Paddington station, Mezzo has the field - and it's a very big field - all to itself. With tonight's stage plonked right at the bottom of the grand Hollywood entrance staircase, and an audience of suits straight out of Central Casting (looking like little stick-men in architects drawings), this was the jazz venue as designed by Piranesi.

Poor old Carmen Lundy, one thought, as she took the stage and her face began to register the first of several increasingly alarmed expressions. First she blinked unbelievingly; then she stared out from beneath her hand like a ship's captain looking for a sign of land; then she blinked again and rubbed her eyes as if the sight before her might yet be an apparition. Then, manfully, she shrugged and got on with it. What a trouper!

With her dyed blonde crop, and an ensemble of feather boa-fringed top and PVC flares (like waders worn upside-down) cloaking her tall, thin frame, Lundy looked a little like the footballer Stan Collymore out for a night of avant-garde clubbing, if, admittedly, marginally more likely to score a goal. Backed by a quartet with a keyboardist prone to some John Shuttleworth-style synth effects (but with the excellent Winston Clifford on drums), she gave it her best shot, despite the shortcomings of the venue.

In a jazz scene where female vocalists are something akin to a genre (like the Western but with even fewer variations of narrative and style), Lundy is a class act. Her voice can ululate like Adelaide Hall on "Creole Love Call", soar like Cleo Laine or Sarah Vaughn, and drop as low as a baritone when it needs to. Mezzo 2, Lundy 3 would be fair summary of the outcome, with several complaints to the groundsman outstanding.

By contrast, the Pizza Express Jazz Club round the corner seemed a veritable oasis of good taste and understatement; as sympathetic as one always imagines clubs with names like Birdland, Minton's and Cafe Bohemia to have been. It is dark and small, and the staff pad silently around the action like vergers in a church, though they occasionally put a little swing in their step in time to the music.

Another American singer, Mark Murphy, was in residence. His style is more distinctive than Miss Lundy's, but far more eccentric, too. While Lundy ululates occasionally, Murphy gets close to yodelling most of the time, and his microphone technique (akin to a lasso trick) produces an extraordinary tremolo effect, rather as if he was going underwater for every other note. But the sound of his voice is big and warm, and while at times his manic attack reminded one of Leslie Neilson doing his cabaret routine in Police Squad, Murphy's urgency and swing win you over in the end. When the last song comes, he does another, and another, and you began to contemplate the nightmarish possibility of being left in the club all night in his company. But then you think of Mezzo and relax.

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