Archive for the ‘Folk’ Category

Zaz Pizazz at Scala, London, UK June 12th 2013

Zaz Pizazz at Scala, London, UK June 12th 2013

Having chalked up from her first two albums, 10 top 5 places in 5 European countries including 5 No.1 spots, Mademoiselle Isabelle Geffroy, better known by the stage name of Zaz, had every reason to be smiling as she hit the London lights at the Scala venue in King’s Cross. Blending a variety of different styles in her set ranging from old “chanson Française” to folkish ska rhythms through to ballads and jazz fusions, 33 year old Zaz has had a steady rise since breaking through in France in 2010 picking up a European Border Breakers Award in 2011 along the way. She is now a well-known established European artist.
Since Zaz has not yet reached the mainstream of these shores and as she sings almost completely in French (with the odd Spanish language thrown in), you were left to wonder why London was a destination on the tour in the first place. Sure, there were a lot of french people, some of whom had queued for several hours to get the best places at the front in the 1000 capacity. But certainly there also a significant minority of English speakers.
Always smiling, Zaz, started with “Les Passants” (The Passers by), arranged in a light folk jazz fusion whose lyrics reflected upon the rush of everyday life , the passing of time and personal growth from this. In fact, the interpretation of free spirit is a theme that Zaz would return to a number of times in songs during the set, notably in her current single On ira (Let’s go) and best known track “Je veux”, (I want).
Also notable was her use of scatting during a number of songs such as Je Saute (I jump).
Slightly more poppy was “La Fée” where the band tried to work up the audience to sing vocal instrumental bit of the song to only limited success. There was a much better attempt at working the crowd into another number where Zaz got 3 sections of the audience to sing in melody. The bulging crowd did a lot of work that evening, one audience member even going so far as to translate the detailed synopsis Zaz gave her of the story behind Piaf song “Dan La Rue”. You couldn’t help thinking that the poor soul should have been on a commission rate. Still, it was needed. it was evident neither Zaz nor her band’s command of English was the best, in particular unwittingly mixing up the words joke and play.
Zaz was to perform another classic Piaf “La Vie en Rose” very competently with an up-tempo beat from the band as well as a very chilled-out cover of Jacques Cabrel’s “Petite Marie”.
The end of the show was wound up in a very lively fashion with Ni Oui Ni No (Neither Yes or No), a lot of jumping which only added to the sweltering humidity in the building and proper rock track “Auz Detenteurs”. Zaz was also to give an impromptu stint on the drums.
Zaz’s enthusiasm for the show was infectious and she was backed up by an excellent band. However , the sheer number of the crowd made the venue feel small and cramped. In addition, at times, particularly while doing the links to the songs in French, she struggled with the incessant crowd chatter which I personally found irritating . Next time, I see her it will have to be in a bigger venue or nothing but this lively charming singer definitely is worth seeing again.


I have been to see Martha Wainwright again recently in December 2012 but pending my publishing a review of that concert I thought it would be worth republishing my review of her 2007 concert at the same venue.

I first wrote this blog in

Martha Wainwright’s reputation for brilliant live shows was completely justified when she played the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Wearing the higest of heels that would have challenged even the most talented top runway model, she sparkled throughout the set. The guitar was strummed with gusto as she ehtusiatically played tracks from her 2006 self titled debut album and showcased some new songs from next years forthcoming album. The variety of song styles that were peformed, ranging from the angst ridden “Ball and Chain” to the wistful “Far Away” through to the early 70’s retro-feel “GPT”, was impressive. Nor did it even seems to matter to anyone when, ironically she momentarily forgot her lines during the aptly titled song “Don’t Forget”. The moment passed with a joke and this made her seems all the more endearing to her audience. Then, in the last third of the show a treat. With a grand announcement by Martha , Pete Townsend, from the Who complete with windmill arm and his partner Rachel Fuller may a low key entrance on stage and accompanied Martha on accoustic guitar on several tracks, notably “This Life”. Townsend appearance proved the icing on an already rich cake. Nonetheless, one final surprise lay in store. The show was closed with a Piafeseque song Dis, Quand reviendras-tu? , sung entirely in French.

Given that Martha’s music is quite distinct from that of the other illustrious Wainwright of the moment, it is, probably, not fair to compare the two. However, inevitably comparisons will abound and her performance more than matched if not surpassed that of her brother. The show did not contain the classical and cabaret elements that are associated with Rufus Wainwright but the show was impressive in its range of stylistic variation that can be attributed not only to her skills as a live performer but also her song writing abilities.

Terra Naomi lands an acoustic delight with support from Paper Aeroplanes, Islington Assembly Hall, London, UK Friday 10th February 2012


Terra Naomi performs an Acoutic set at Islington Assembly Hall, London, UK, February 10th 2012

The lovely Terra Naomi performs an Acoutic set at Islington Assembly Hall, London, UK, February 10th 2012

It takes a very accomplished artist indeed to hold a crowd for over an hour just doing an acoustic set but that’s exactly what the lovely Terra Naomi did on Friday night at Islington Assembly Hall. This grand 1930’s art deco venue that has been recently opened to the public for concert, complimented the singer’s performance perfectly by, not only providing a great backdrop but also enhancing the sound quality of the singer’s vocal modulations and acoustic guitar.

Terra was one of several artists who found success in 2006 by cleverly using the Internet to broadcast virtual concerts. The UK’ own Sandi Thom was another.  In fact, Terra was one of the first to win a You Tube video award. I came across her in 2007 supporting Martha Wainwright and was impressed by her range of vocal tonality and the strength of her lyrics.  She was a performer, I thought, definitely worth seeing in own right as headliner. Then, she was signed to major record label Island Record and lived in London for a year or so, a fact she referred to in the concert. As she’s no longer signed to this label, it looks like she has raised funds independently to make her second album and this show was part of the European tour to promote it.

So back to the show: Terra ambled on stage rather innocuously and gradually the audience applause levels went up. Taking some moments to install herself properly at the piano, she provoked light ripples of laughter by declaring to the audience “if we’re settled in then we’ll get started”. She started with a classical piano ballad with a real 70’s feel “If I Could Stay” evoking beautifully the feeling of distance and lost time between two people in relationship. A good start to the show, then,  drawing the audience in at emotional level.

After declaring herself delighted to be back in London after a 3 and half year absence, she dedicated “The Vicadin Song” –  to two people named Rebecca in the audience.

“You for Me” was an up-tempo song portraying a fantasy of  idealistic  life  and vocally exuded the optimistic feel of Kate Nash stylistically. At one point Terra voice’s suddenly slid far up the octave scales and down again with such effortless ease, she could have been taken for a world class yodeller.

London, or least the part of it that was there in the hall responded well, even when Terra initiated a guessing game for a song for which she had changed the original arrangement. The song was nonetheless recognisable as “Jenny”. The 2006 You Tube sensation “Say it’s possible” followed afterwards, was sung beautifully and with note perfect precision on the acoustic guitar.

Clearly at ease by now with the audience, Terra relayed some quirky stories: including one about being asked to compose a song to a sex scene for the film Super, mentioning Liv Tyler and Rainn Wilson in the process but I think she meant Ellen Page. I am sure no-one present in the audience will ever think about these actors in the same way again. The song that came out of this process was called “Someday Soon” , a slow acoustic track that showcased Terra’s songbird range.

More references to video followed with Terra, just before playing the song about stealing someone else’s boyfriend –“Not Sorry”, describing how on the video for that song she had to film while walking up the stairs sometimes backwards.

There were a couple of excellent covers including a most original  version of Micheal Jackson’s Billie Jean framed in sombre minor chords on the guitar sung with the passionate folky crescendo of someone like Mary Hopkins (c 1968). (Those who don’t remember that singer – she was a Welsh folk singer signed to the Apple label –same one as the Beatles). This is probably the best non-dance cover of this iconic Jackson record that I’ve ever heard – beautiful in its simplicity.

Terra Naomi at the Piano , Islington Assembly Hall, London, UK , Febraury 10th 2012

For the other cover, which was another classic, Terra moved back to the piano and gave an accomplished rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over troubled Waters. She was to stay at the piano for her last song pre-encore “I’ll be Waiting”, taken from latest album “To Know I’m OK”.

In the show  there were of comic moments when Terra attempted to move back and forth between acoustic microphone and the piano and kept knocking the guitar stands over. It’s endearing to see that performers are normal human beings.

For the final song of the encore someone in the audience shouted a request  for “Flesh for Bones” and Terra, in a matter of fact way, went “OK”, took the guitar and launched into this beautiful song with its deep and varied acoustic chords. Terra’s voice was at its finest. It was fitting end to a mesmerising acoustic tour de force. After the show Terra Naomi met her fans and was as warm and likable off-stage as she was on it.

Paper Aeroplanes supporting Terra Naomi, Islington Assembly Hall, Friday 10th February 2012

The support band Paper Aeroplanes must also be mentioned as they provided worthy support in a long slot lasting 40 minutes. They combined acoustic with folk elements. The cello added a touch of magic. “Orange Lights” was my personal favourite and definitely had a touch of the atmosphere of “Martha’s Harbour” about it. Sarah Howell’s voice was a delight as was her wry sense of humour especially the reference comparing Terra Naomi’s European odyssey to arriving from Fulham for the gig on the Piccadilly line tube. Hilarious. Their music was relaxed and enjoyable and is worth checking out live. This band certainly have what it takes to succeed and would perfectly compliment artists of the style and stature of Laura Marling.

Emilia Martensson, Consort Cafe, Royal Albert Hall – London Jazz festival series,  17th November 2011.

Emilia Martensson performs at the Cafe Consort , London UK , November 17th 2011

Emilia Martensson - Rising Star of the UK Jazz Scene performs at the Cafe Consort, London, November 17th 2011

It was a curious experience indeed to walk into an upmarket cafe/restaurant at midday, struggle to get a table in what proved to a venue for ladies and tourists that lunch and yet witness a full-on jazz gig of  an hour and half that could have equally taken place in a smoky jazz club in Paris or Chicago.

But Emilia Martensson and her band delivered in spades. Opening the show with “If You Go Away” Emilia showcased her charming soothing voice accompanied with light touch piano solos as she conveyed beautifully a sort of mournful longing but in a considered and controlled delivery. A contingent of Emilia’s family and friends were present in the odd banana shaped room as she dedicated the song “Something in the Way she moves” to her sister , a song whose lyrics about a close intimate relationship with an extremely melodic and soulful piano as the main accompaniment,  reminded me stylistically of Nerina Pallot combined with the quiet power of Eva Cassidy.

There were certainly a diverse mix of styles in the first set including a song in Swedish about the seasons which evoked the power of nature in its composition; and another with a bossa nova beat where at one point bass and piano played so frenetically off one-another, it was like two pieces string twisted up together, pulling apart to try to unravel the knots but in doing so creating further tension. Somehow the musical conundrum resolved itself in the end. In spite of it being midday, this particular musical piece definitely had me imagining being at that smoky jazz club .  Credit to bassist Sam Lasserson , pianist Barry Green and drummer Jon Scott for bringing that atmosphere.

The final song at the end of the first part of this two set show called “Everything Put Together Sooner or Later Falls Apart” contained a strong message about drug addiction against the backdrop of Broadway style melody. This melody masterly transformed into an off-soul slow jazz funk solo with a mellow bass before bringing the half to a close.

Emilia Martensson and Barry Green on piano at the Cafe Consort, London, November 17th 2011

Emilia Martensson and Barry Green on piano at the Cafe Consort, London, November 17th 2011

In the second set the versatility of this captivating singer was shown again when she slightly altered the tonality of her voice to convey an “easy listening” style while ably covering James Taylor’s “Another Day” juxtaposed by the equally versatile jazz funk piano of Barry Green.

A second Swedish ballad “Krystallen den fina” in 3:4 time revealed an almost child-like pop side of Martensson’s voice and contained a laid back jazz piano melody bordering on classical that was ingenious in its subtlety. Do not ask me for a translation I do not speak Swedish but it was charming

“And so it goes”  –  an intimate love ballad with great lyrics and a gorgeous piano intro and solos played immaculately  – the title track of Emilia Martensson  and Barry Green’s new album brought the whole concert to a close.  

Martensson, already a winner (along with Jon Scott as part of the Kairos 4tet) of a MOBO award is rapidly rising star on the British Jazz scene and this understated but nonetheless musically versatile performance demonstrates why.  In spite of the unusual time and setting on the concert, in spite of the constant two and fro of waiters, I really enjoyed the show. This was also one of the Best Value for Money concerts I have had the privilege of attending. For the price of a pot of tea I came out into the cold Autumn sunshine feeling relaxed and serene. Not many artists can make me feel that way.