Because Ian Shaw has such a commanding stage presence and is so engaging and entertaining, this could easily have been knock-about cabaret, punctuated with music. It wasn’t; and that’s because the man exudes music—and every number was shot through with his seemingly endless musical invention and an expressive range that is as astonishing for its variety as for its sheer musicality.
There is no shortage of singers who can reach a falsetto, but none who can do so with such assurance, precision and sustained power. What comes at a stretch for most singers Ian Shaw can modulate as though it were his middle register—and from there, he can pivot, seamlessly, to yet another mode of expression. But there is considerably more to his music than a very large array of well-honed techniques: for all variety and richness of his vocals, they are placed at the service of the songs: these were felt, often passionate renderings. There were plenty of technical marvels in his take on ‘A Place for Us,’ but his delivery was poignant and touching.
Anyone familiar with Shaw’s output will know that he is also a considerable pianist—punchy, percussive and playful. But it didn’t take long to appreciate the qualities his accompanist, Jamie Safirudin brought to the proceedings. He’s a more lyrical player than Shaw, with a lighter touch and no shortage of supportive melodic invention. He was joined by trumpeter Miguel Gorodi—and quite aside from the colour both provided in each of the numbers, their own interplay was an added treat, with plenty of blues-inflected soloing (and a hint of ragtime, too.)
But both Safirudin and Gorodi needed to be alert and adroit: improvisation is integral to his performances, but one sensed that there was more spontaneity to some of of Shaw’s vocal flights than is usually the case in a jazz gig, no doubt facilitated by singing to, rather than with the piano—a kind of ‘launch on warning.’ It was a delight to witness and to hear.
For all of his humour and musical gymnastics, Ian Shaw is a serious-minded artist, a full-on performer and a uniquely gifted vocalist. The kinds of passion that music can best express were there to be savoured—and we did.
© J. Whitman, 8th May 2016