A drizzly Friday evening in London can get right on your nerves. Travelling across town’s a pain what with drip-dripping umbrellas and steamy tubes and buses. Pubs are packed to the rafters. Your hair’s ruined, your shoes squelch. You arrive at your final destination flustered, disheveled and in need of something to make it all a bit better.
Luckily then this rainy Friday I was seeing Guida de Palma perform live with her band Jazzinho – the perfect antidote to the weather.
The gig was highly anticipated after my recent interview with Guida, and I had been listening to the third studio album – Veludo - on repeat the last few weeks to inject some soul into an otherwise sterile commute. Plus, I love the intimacy of Rich Mix. The crowd’s cool, the bar’s only a quick step away from anywhere and there’s usually room to dance.
Femi Temowo – renowned jazz-guitarist, producer, broadcaster and ex-musical director for Amy Winehouse – warmed up in fine style with his hypnotic bass and instantly likeable character. Anecdotes about his Oyster card and tales of Nigeria provided a colourful backdrop to the music. His face etched with deep concentration, he produced a beautifully distinctive sound and played tracks from his critically acclaimed second album Orin Meta. Blackbird by The Beatles performed in the Yoruba language was an impressive cover brilliantly executed. The audience was mellowed, any former memories of hectic work or reminders of gigantic to-do lists obliterated.
Guida made her entrance elegantly swathed in a gorgeous tan tie-dye patterned dress with a gold collar detail and draped sleeves. With a shout of ‘this is for the music lovers‘ the show began with the track Ready to Feel Again and the crowd instantly responded with appreciation for the bossa and samba infused sounds.
Abraco da Bossa was the first track of the night sang in Guida’s native Portuguese and gracefully soulful, and followed by April’s Fool. Her enthusiasm on stage was infectious and the music so uplifting that the crowd joined in willingly when invited to participate. Guida spotted me in the audience and, mid-flow, called out ‘Hello Nicola!’ which, I can’t lie, was pretty special.
Jazzinho is comprised of musicians who have played with an impressive range of artists including Eric Clapton, Incognito and the Brand New Heavies, and so you would expect them to know what they are doing. What you get is a lot more – a tight band that makes exemplary music and it felt like an education as well as a treat to be there. Guida seemed genuinely excited and proud to introduce them - Richard Bailey on drums, Julian Crampton on bass, Jim Mullen on guitar, Graham Harvey on keyboard and Femi Temowo back on bass.
Jim Mullen, effortlessly cool and like his fellow band members a seasoned professional, rocked a tucked-in Blue Note Tokyo - World’s Finest Jazz Club & Restaurant T-shirt, and it was the best T-shirt ever. I need that T-shirt.
With Whispers in the Darkness, written by Luis Barrigas and Guida, she showcased the incredible range of her voice – moving flawlessly from high to low and with both sensuality and strength. She sings in both Portuguese and English, switching masterfully back and forth between the two languages without any jaggedness.
A vantage point at front of stage afforded me a sneak preview of the great soul legend and artist, songwriter and composer Leon Ware hanging out at the sidelines with Jazz FM’s Chris Philips and clearly enjoying the show as much as we all were. A pinch-yourself moment if ever there was one.
Guida has an inspiring stage presence as well as an incredible voice and Papao, written by Graham Harvey and Guida was an uplifting and jazzy performance.
When it was time to introduce Leon Ware, Guida described him as ‘the man who kickstarted the album, a musical genius, and a lovely man‘. He seemed incredibly humble given the enormity of his success that has spanned over six decades. He said he listened to Guida’s music every night, embraced her warmly and together they sang the delicious Anglo-Portuguese blended track and samba-embellished A Seed in You, the song that was an instant hit with Jazz FM and given the airtime it deserved.
The show ended on a high with a cover of I Wanna be Where You Are which Leon Ware co-wrote for Michael Jackson and which I have not stopped playing ever since.
Seeing Guida de Palma and Jazzinho in London goes down as one of my favourite gigs to date and I left with a sense that anyone who didn’t know of them or hasn’t had the pleasure of being introduced to their music was greatly missing out. This is quality music, tirelessly recorded and passionately performed for music lovers and London (and the world) needs more of it.
Alex Lloyd, Head of Live at Jazz FM proudly said on his Facebook page ‘Yes that is Leon Ware and Guida de Palma together on stage for the first time ever and at my show. Made it happen.
Proud he should be.