For those of us becoming overwhelmed by the season’s festivities Friday night’s jazz show in Garsington did much to revive the jaded aural pallet. With the combination of Catherine Sykes' clarity of tone, diction and intonation, an exuberant and enthusiastic supporting trio of Martin Picton on piano, Paul Jefferies on double bass and Nick Millward on drums, and a playlist of Ella Fitzgerald classics, the evening passed in mellow tones, gentle riffs, subtle humour and a tenuous connection to Christmas. (I think 'Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire' and 'Baubles, Bangles and Beads' was as close as we got).
There was little Christmas decoration in Garsington’s Village Hall – not even a glitter ball to evoke the Savoy Ballroom – and the local audience had clearly dressed for the weather not the occasion but they had brought a fine selection of comestibles and quaffables to consume whilst enjoying a performance elevated beyond the boundaries of the venue and the chill of the evening.
The bonhomie extended to an enthusiastic appreciation of the night’s musical offerings through such classics as 'That Old Black Magic' – with great bongo playing from Nick Millward; a light rendition of 'Let’s Do It' with an intriguing piano riff; an outstanding bass solo in 'Shiny Stockings' and a joyous rendition of 'Georgia Brown' to close the show. This relaxed and pleasant atmosphere was a reflection of the ease, enthusiasm and ability the musicians brought to the show and was a great demonstration of how a singer and an ad hoc trio of talented jazz musicians can come together to produce a unique show of familiar tunes complexly rendered.
In fact the relaxed atmosphere and mellifluous music belied the complexity of the music and the competence of the musicians. Catherine Sykes' voice was controlled and her range wide and accomplished – at no point did her vocal interpretation of the music feel stretched or overwhelmed – and she brought precision and warmth in tone to her musical interpretation, and her clear affection for the evening’s song book shone through. Nick Millward’s drumming was pivotal to driving each tune and this was particularly noticeable in the rendition of Cole Porter’s 'Just One of Those Things' which opened with hushed cymbal brushing and built to a drum rolling crescendo. Nick’s drumming also interacted and sparred with Paul Jefferies on bass throughout the show with their bass reverberations enticing Martin Picton to precision counter-point on key board.
Overall the night’s performance belied the setting and moved beyond the tenuous Christmas theme to produce a show of understated sophistication, full of familiar tunes yet uniquely presented and performed with great incite and precision. As a one-off performance between musicians unused to playing together Catherine and the trio showed great empathy, intuition and some telepathy. Yet another example of the “old black magic” of jazz and a great introduction to this small but effective jazz club – I can’t wait for the next show in April.