Review and pictures by Brian Homer
The mac, Birmingham UK
Strange Fruit is very hard song to do because of getting the tone of it right and because Billie Holiday did such definitive versions of it. So not many singers attempt it and I’m not sure that I have heard it sung live before. So it’s been a real privilege to have heard two utterly spellbinding versions live in not much more than a week.
First there was Reem Kelani at her Birmingham Jazz/Celebrating Sanctuary gig with her unique Palestinian/Arabic/Jazz voice and then last night Lucia Cadotsch with Speak Low. She confirmed its difficulty by introducing it by saying “it took me a long time to get round to singing this song.” But she did it brilliantly, and like Reem, did it in a totally unique way musically while presenting the full force of its meaning. And how we need songs like this in these times.
Lucia has a wonderful bell-like clear voice and pure tone and like a lead horn player it was she who carried the melody. But if anyone expected straightforward trio arrangements they were quickly disabused of that idea. It took a while to get my ears atuned to what was happening but it was immediately intriguing and actually superb.
There was no drummer just Petter Eldh on bass (borrowed from Nick Jurd) and Otis Sandsjö on tenor saxophone. But again if anyone expected anything typical from those instruments… In turns and together they provided a fascinating soundscape interwoven under and alongside the vocals.
There was no regular underpinning of a rhythm section – they each took bits of the rhythm and time with Petter plucking and thumping the bass and Otis playing the sax like I’ve never heard before. It was almost aboriginal at times with resonant tones and often quite quiet. And he also used the keys in an unusual way to create drum like patterns and sounds. At times he also played in and around the voice in a similar register.
Before doing Strange Fruit they started with Don’t Explain another song sung (and written this time) by Billie Holiday and then the song the band is named for, Speak Low.
Other songs included Ain’t Got No, I Got Life, Willow Weep For Me and at the end they did Gloomy Sunday – kind of appropriate given the US election even though it was a Wednesday. After a rousing reception they encored with Moon River and like the other songs they did it in a completely different way, in contrast to all the sugary versions you have ever heard, which pointed up its poignancy.
A great night and another example of the strength of the Birmingham scene.
- This was a TDE Promotions/Fizzle event.
- There’s a CD out with this music on Yellowbird/Enja.
- More about Speak Low HERE.
Categories: Live review