In the spacious surrounds of Warwick Hall in Burford spotted with little tables and a mix of seats and comfy armchairs, the hall itself lit with those pleasant artificial candles which wobble their flames to ‘flicker’, we settled in with our bottle of Prosecco and very welcome free bowl of nachos to await the band.
On stage strode four individuals, our resident double bass player Paul Jeffries, who organizes jazz events across five venues around Oxfordshire, studious-looking guitarist Dave Warren, a drummer with a gleam in his eye by the name of Andy Ball, and then of course the front woman for the occasion, jazz singer Sara Dowling.
The acoustics of the hall were very good, and what I noticed first of all about Dowling was her confidence - in her stride, in her very erect stance, and in her willingness to gurn whilst singing! This is a true sign of an artist dedicated to her music, as she let herself fall down the rabbit hole of scat vocals at many moments through the night, she was not afraid to release her jaw muscles in favour of finding those notes. This is something you often see in guitarists deeply engrossed in their riffs, and for me it was a hallmark of someone dedicated to her art. And man, could she sing.
band were solid, more than solid, strong. But Sara Dowling stole the show, not
to mention most souls present that night. Guitarist
The selection gave full license to Dowling’s impressive vocal range, and she had some beautiful low notes often used to round out a number. A bossa nova take on ‘Dream Dancing’ stood out early on, the rhythmic scat play in ‘Nobody Else But Me’ was compelling, and the drummer repeatedly showed us he knows where the beats aren’t, leaving space around his rhythms in truly creative style.
Dowling came from a classical cello background before breaking into jazz, and you can feel both elements at work in her voice, a technical brilliance, but a determination to let go, and let the jazz happen. She was comfortable on stage, laughing with the guitarist in some moments of his solo, and overall the band had a great rapport. ‘Latin all the way, let’s keep it hot fellas’ she told the band before launching into the next number and taking us out into space.
My wife, the lovely Lorena, was particularly taken with a number entitled ‘Stella by Starlight’, and my heart and I would have to agree. The first half closed out with a lovely rendition of ‘As Time Goes By’, and Dowling returned to the stage after the interval with the guitar player only to perform a touching version of Ira and George Gershwin’s ‘Embraceable You’.
The band returned and we were then treated to super swinging scat freeform in ‘Thou Swell’, a moony spacewalk in ‘A Flower is a Lonesome Thing’, and a wonderfully cool rendition in the original Portuguese of ‘Doralice’. One that stuck out for me near the end was the profoundly bluesy ‘Moon Ray’, as well as Dowling’s own composition, the melancholic and moving ballad ‘The Rainiest Day’. The encore did not disappoint either, ‘Lullaby on Broadway’ recalling Doris Day’s version, and going round my head all the way home.