Zoe Gilby, voice
Mark William, guitar
Andy Champion, bass
Richard Brown, bass
It takes a certain stage presence and deft awareness as well as musical talent for an ensemble comprising only voice, guitar, bass and drums to hold an audience rapt for two hours. This was a jazz performance, but of the most intimate kind—and certainly with no place to hide; and little if any space for any of the musicians to take a step back from the proceedings. So for all that the music was (largely) on the quiet side , this was a ‘full on’ presentation: utterly committed, full of musical interest and surprisingly varied.
Zoe Gilby established a rapport with the audience from the outset; and her direct, unaffected and quite genuine introductions and interludes set the tone for the evening. Her singing is characterised by clarity of delivery, an ability to truly enter the spirit of a lyric, an un-dramatic but heartfelt delivery and a pleasing variety of register and tone. Fine as she is delivering standards, her own material, which featured throughout both sets, displayed her vocal and stylistic range to the full.
Inevitably with a group of this kind, the question as how establish and maintain the intimacy of the guitar/voice pairing with sufficient ‘punch’ requires some careful consideration—and more importantly, musicians of the calibre to deliver that balance. This was clearly not an issue for the band. Mark Williams played guitar without any of the kind of showiness that one has come to expect from our guitar-saturated musical culture. His playing was subordinated to the demands of the group—and of course, to Zoe’s singing in particular. Yet at the same time, the absence of guitar fireworks only served to underline the thoughtful, beautifully placed notes and chords and the expressive qualities of his playing. Without ever ‘amping up,’ he turned in some heart-achingly beautiful turns.
Andy Champion is a fine bass player, of course, but when called upon to take the spotlight, he seemed able to maintain the pulse of the music while turning in melodic runs that are not often within the reach of even the most accomplished bass players. Even he couldn’t make it look easy; and it sounded marvellous.
Drummer Richard Brown was also firmly in support mode—making his contribution indispensible by not drawing attention to his playing. Yet when he was featured on a rendition of ‘Caravan,’ no one was left in doubt about his very considerable musical reserves.
It seemed that the vocal highlight of the evening might be Zoe’s rendering of a Nancy Wilson number, ‘ I’m always drunk in San Francisco’—delivered with real panache. But that was before the final number of the second set—one of her originals, seemingly a bold move, even given her song writing abilities. But “Red City’—an evocation of a trip she had made to Marakesh—was a tour de force by the entire band, whisking the audience out of a strictly jazz idiom into a sinuous improvisation that was quite amazing. And as though that weren’t a sufficient high, the evening ended on a simple encore which found Zoe and Mark Williams exchanging riffs—a delightful ‘who can go the highest?’ exchange, in which Zoe revealed a strength in the very top of her range that was an unexpected, final treat.