London Jazz Festival – Cleo Laine: A Family Affair

Cleo Laine: A Family Affair

Cleo Laine, Jacqui Dankworth & Emily Dankworth (vocals); Alec Dankworth (double bass), John Horler (piano), Mark Nightingale (trombone), Ben Castle (saxophone), Chris Allard (guitar) & Jim Hart (drums)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 16 November, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The passing of John Dankworth earlier this year has evidently (and happily!) done little or nothing to dampen the performing zeal of his widow – Cleo Laine returning to the Barbican Hall for what has become a regular fixture in the London Jazz Festival. The present show goes by the title “A Family Affair”, which is fair enough given that three generations of the dynasty were involved. Alongside Dame Cleo were her daughter Jacqui and granddaughter Emily, whose father Alec fronted a sextet that featured such stalwarts of the Dankworth line-up as pianist John Horler and trombonist Mark Nightingale; along with recent recruits as saxophonist Ben Castle, guitarist Chris Allard and drummer Jim Hart (his apparent wizardry on vibes sadly not called for). Dankworth/Laine classics rubbed shoulders with standards and pop in an eclectic yet deftly cohesive programme that played to the strengths of those involved.

The first half began tellingly with ‘If Music Be the Food of Love’ – the opening number from the album “Shakespeare and All That Jazz” and which, some fifty years after its initial release, showcases the combined talents of Dankworth as composer/bandleader and Laine as vocalist to undiminished effect; not least with the voice part re-jigged to take in all three vocalists. ‘Hallelujah’ then found Cleo in characteristically gutsy voice, before Jimmy Blanton’s ‘Jack the Bear’ enabled Alec to demonstrate some typically dexterous bass playing. ‘Viente Años’ brought Emily to the microphone and proved the ideal vehicle for her effortlessly plaintive and affecting vocal, enhanced by naturalness of phrasing and what sounded to be wholly idiomatic Spanish. Jacqui then took centre-stage for a sequence that commenced with the Ralph Towner-tinged country pop of ‘Bepo’, followed up by Charlie Wood’s soulful arrangement of ‘My One and Only Love’ and a suave take on ‘Let’s Fall in Love’, before concluding with a show-stopping rendition of ‘Sitting on Top of the World’. Jacqui and Cleo then traded vocal-lines in a bluesy take on Mel Tormé’s ‘Love Train’, thereby bringing the first half to a gently smouldering close.

Proceedings after the interval got straight into gear with the breezy arrangement of Chick Corea’s ‘Captain Marvel’ which, in the process, put the sextet through its paces. Cleo and Jacqui came together for an ingenious and affecting version of Dino Lamont’s ‘Woman-Talk’. Emily then joining them for the inward rapture of ‘Besame mucho’ in which her Spanish and their English were alternated to alluring effect. John Dankworth’s energetic arrangement of ‘Fascinatin’ Rhythm’ duly allowed Cleo to reaffirm her jazz credentials as amply as Blossom Dearie’s ‘Peel Me a Grape’ saw her unfurl her array of nuance in phrasing and expression. No evening featuring Cleo Laine would be complete without her inclusion of ‘He was Beautiful’, featuring Laine’s own touchingly direct lyrics to the John Williams and Stanley Myers evergreen, before Cleo and Jacqui proceeded to up-the-mood with their lively rendition of ‘It Ain’t What You Do’. All three singers then came together for a truly heart-warming rendition of ‘Be Happy’, which would have made a worthwhile finale – except that ‘The Compleat Works’, the closing number from the Shakespeare album, proved even more appropriate in this respect as an encore.

It is worth noting that the audience, subdued in the first half as though in the knowledge of Sir John’s absence, met the second half with a standing ovation. No wonder, as this ‘family affair’ did more than revisit old friends: it found the Dankworth/Laine family revelling in the here and now of music-making.

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