Review: Carnival comes to Camden Town
Monday 09 February 1998
Jazz Cafe, London
It doesn't promise much, that rather pub-rock sounding name, but Smoke City's intoxicating Latin and dub-influenced sound can generate enough sunshine to bring a carnival atmosphere to Camden in February. The dance cognoscenti approached the evening with snake-hipped curiosity. Most male eyes were fixed on the band's Anglo-Brazilian chanteuse, Nina Miranda. As she segued from Portuguese to French to English, her sweetly-intoned vocals lost none of their erotic charge. But her speaking voice - more Lorraine Chase than Carmen Miranda - was a reminder that while this lot have the rhythm of the saints, they're probably au fait with EastEnders, too.
Both DJ/programmer Marc Brown and guitarist Chris Franck have spent time in Brazil studying Latin music. Tonight this was most apparent in the infectious, loping groove of "Numbers", and in Franck's beguiling guitar arpeggios during the first encore, "Remember This".
Engagingly, the core trio of Franck, Brown and Miranda was augmented to a octet with sitar, cello, electric piano, and more percussion than you could shake a stick at. This enabled the band to stretch the improvisational potential of tracks from their debut album, Flying Away. Cellist Ivan Hussey's solo in "Jamie Pan", for example, was memorable for its rhythmic invention and cross-cultural nous.
Inevitably it was "Underwater Love" - the soundtrack to Levi's mermaid advert - that got the biggest cheer. In playing the song mid-set, Smoke City seemed keen to play down what has become something of a signature tune.
It's a minor criticism, but some might argue that Smoke City lack clear direction, and that the frothy, throwaway pop of, say, "Mr Gorgeous" is a little hard to swallow after something as credible as their cover of Tom Jobim's "Aguas De Marco". That said, as the joyous, all-hands-on-percussion- fest that closed the main act highlighted, this is music to make you move, not think. Perhaps we should just start dancing and cut the chat.
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