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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Dee Dee Bridgewater – Cadogan Hall, EFG London Jazz Festival 2017 - November 16

(Review courtesy of Leah Williams, photo credit Giedrė Čėsnaitė)
The one and only Dee Dee Bridgewater doesn’t need any introduction but we were given one anyway, in which she was described as a “music chameleon”. Never was this description so aptly used as, every time I’ve seen her live, it has been something completely different and last night was no exception. Around this time last year, she was at Ronnie’s singing songs in dedication to Billie Holiday and the mood was powerfully melancholic with Dee Dee’s voice out in full jazz standard force. Last night, she was on stage celebrating the release of her new album Memphis….Yes, I’m Ready, looking back at the blues and soul music of her birth town Memphis, Tennessee.

Quite a departure from the classic jazz that won her the 2017 NEA Jazz Master title. The truth is though, Dee Dee is one of those rare, gifted vocalists who could, as the saying goes, sing the phone book and people would be queuing up to hear. Whether gently crooning or belting out some soul, every note is faultless and full of inspiring energy and love of music. 

Last night was a dazzling performance, in more ways than one. Coming out on stage sparkling in every which way possible, the show was high-octane energy from start to finish. She was joined on stage by the fantastic musicians of Memphis Soulphony and two backing singers. She preceded the performance by recognising that this new music was a bit of a risk for her, and one that she hoped would pay off. There was no trepidation or holding back though. She didn’t tone things down or create some kind of jazz hybrid versions of the songs to try and appease the more judgemental listener. This album is one in which she’s allowed herself to unleash her soul diva completely, immersing herself in the groundbreaking music of the 60s.

Still, in her own words, this music was being “revisited and revamped” and of course the Dee Dee stamp was fully recognisable. This project is obviously a labour of love and one that is intensely personal for her. It was mostly music she had heard on the legendary radio station WDIA (the first station to exclusively programme black music) and on which her own father, Matthew Garrett, was a featured DJ for a time. We were treated to timeless numbers such as Gladys Knight’s Giving Up, Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand the Rain, and — as a fantastic encore finale — Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness. In between there were reinventions of perhaps lesser known songs from The Soul Children and The Staples Singers

On this journey with Dee Dee, we were let into details of her life as a child and teenager and this side of her musical roots and heritage. It was very exposing and endearing and one that you couldn’t help but appreciate and connect with. As usual, she gave her all to the audience and to each piece, with some incredible vocals and interaction with the band members. There were some joyous moments of unanimous scatting with the guitar and musical dialogues with the sax that in particular both impressed and appeased our jazz expectations slightly. 

Perhaps the highlight of the night, though, was when, after talking about the tendency (her own included) to throw underwear at the stage at Al Green concerts, some enterprising guy (“Craig from Canada” we later found out) took his own boxers down and threw them at Dee Dee’s feet. Upon discovering them, what did she do? Why, put them on of course! And then proceeded to do the entire concert wearing them over her outfit. There are not many singers out there who would do this and it is her ability to truly have fun and not take herself too seriously that puts Dee Dee up there at the top of the entertainer ranks. And, well, why shouldn’t she? She hasn’t got anything to prove. Her talent goes far beyond any clothing choices, after all.

It would be amiss not to mention the opening set, which was performed by the Camilla George Quartet. Camilla, alto saxophonist and composer, is a rising star on the London jazz scene and it’s easy to hear why, listening to her play live. This short but oh-so-sweet set was the perfect opener, creating a real buzz in the hall. Pieces were cleverly chosen, two newer tracks and one from recently released album Isang, to show the young saxophonist’s range and capabilities and give much deserved room to her incredible band. Special mention has to go out to Sarah Tandy on piano, whose playing was quite mesmerising and got a deserved big reaction from the audience. 
Leah
Band line-up:




Keys Dell Smith
Guitar Charlton Johnson
Bass Barry Campbell
Drums Carlos Sargent
Trumpet Curtis Pulliam
Tenor Sax Bryant Lockhart

Singers:
Christina Matoboo
Monet Owens

Camilla George Quartet:
Alto sax Camilla George
Drums Winston Clifford
Piano Sarah Tandy
Bass Dan Casimir

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