Sunday, May 13, 2012

Liane Carroll, Leeds University, Review

Liane Carroll breezed onto stage at the Riley Smith Hall & within seconds had the entire sell-out crowd roaring approval. Her musical presence is huge, far larger than her physical size (which was the subject of much self-deprecating humour) and she dominated the evening with a glorious voice and more - a stunning musical grasp of songs old and new which worked its inevitable magic on everyone present.

We began with a gloriously joyful This Must Be Love which segued straight into Old Devil Moon ("I couldn't work out how to end the first one"). Words & improvisations melded into one without ever losing the ability to convey passion. Liane never simply dazzles in that pointlessly showy manner of TV talent shows. You can't take your eyes off her, and you never feel she has violated the core of music with which she is so endlessly creative. Tom Waits Take Me Home was transformed, plaintively beautiful, but believably a jazz standard.

By herself, a piano, a mike, a spotlight (though a couple of lads from the band doodled along in one song) Liane was superb. The first half was pretty nigh perfect.

The second half saw the Leeds University Union Dance Band join her on stage. The band played a few songs to begin; Liane had talked them up before the break - and quite right too. For a a student band this is a first rate outfit. An occasional unevenness in the saxes might have been down to splitting the tenors either side of the altos, but five trumpets is always a thrill -especially when played this well. The guy who played the wonderfully old-school solo on Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me was a joy: so many young players are all technique & no style, and this lad had genuine big band style and plenty of it. However - the glory of this band is the trombone section. Any professional big band anywhere would take this section. Creamy, mellow, punchy when needed, all four sounding richly as one - I simply can't remember hearing a sound like that for ages. Fantastic. The band is playing at the North Sea Jazz Festival this summer. Go see them, especially for the trombones.

Liane came back, and her material was unfortunately a bit patchy. It was clear that we were seeing the product of compromise - which often happens when a guest singer performs with a band like this. Some of this material was well known to her; some of it was seat of the pants. The free-flying glory of the first half was gone, but the joy of the band & her unrelenting good humour kept the evening high-octane and high-value entertainment. I think very few other entertainers could have done half so well.

Highlights? Orange Coloured Sky, Almost Like Being in Love. I would love to hear her have a go at Harry Connick's Come By Me after more rehearsal; this (of all the second half songs) was surely best suited to Liane's style, but it fell sadly flat. Shame - it's a great piece, and it wasn't quite the only moment we realised how ad-hoc the evening was.

However - don't let that detract from the show. It had rough edges, it had brilliance. The brilliance won. At the end, we demanded an encore, and then stood to cheer as the stage emptied. I'd go again tonight if they repeated the show. And probably tomorrow too. Five stars.  

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