Zoe Schwarz in April followed Zoe Rahman in March. For me, the man who books the bands for CJC, there was a sharp contrast that has nothing to do with the artists’ musical or presentational talents.
As my devoted readership will recall, her visit to CJC was the sixth time I’d heard Zoe Rahman in live performance. In contrast, I booked Zoe Schwarz after listening many times to her second CD, Dancing With Miles, and then eventually going to hear her in a duo at the Jazz Café Fleur in Poole. My visit had convinced me of her voice and her ability to handle a small, noisy audience. Clearly also she and Rob Koral, guitarist and composer, had a close musical understanding in their well balanced programme, with many classic jazz standards and only a few of their own compositions – even though their own music is very important to them both. Any slight doubts about Zoe were removed by her excellent third album, Devil and Dove, in March 2005, followed by the news that she had been booked to play a week at Ronnie Scott’s in August 2005.
Even so, I was surprised at just how good the whole band was at CJC. Zoe’s singing was remarkable, with an attractive, smoky tone in the lower register and a strong, soaring quality, effortlessly achieved apparently, in the upper range. Her stage presence, attributed to her 9-year old daughter’s inspiration, also impressed. The energy of her live performance matches that of ‘the other Zoe’ and makes me inclined to believe that there really is something in a name (if you can be bothered, see the review of the Zoe Rahman gig). Rob Koral lived up to his excellent reputation – ‘worth his weight in gold’ according to one review. He moving easily between unobtrusive support and totally convincing solos; his solo version of Shadow of Your Smile led the audience to call for an encore, a beautiful Moon River. On piano was Hilary Cameron who started well, if somewhat tentatively at times, and was absolutely outstanding in the second half; on record she also sings and plays flute and it would add a special quality to the band if she did so in live performance. And finally, young Nick Kacal on bass, who played with great zest and drive all evening and contributed several excellent solos.
Among the numbers that particularly appealed to me were: All Right, OK, You Win; Tom Waits’s Temptation; Ellington’s Lucky So and So, and Jobim’s No More Blues. Schwarz-Koral originals included the Billie Holiday-inspired Let’s Explain and Give Him Up Girl; The Waitress; and I’m Alright Jack. It was on some of the more up-tempo numbers that I noticed a certain lack of clarity in Zoe’s diction. Not a problem in the standards - when I knew most of the words anyway - this sometimes spoilt my enjoyment of what are often clever and subtle lyrics in the originals.
In summary, Zoe is outstanding, particularly considering her relatively limited experience in jazz. I will be fascinated to discover quite how far her career will take her. She certainly meets my standard ’20-mile test’ for bands – I’d travel at least that distance to hear her again! Indeed I shall try to get to Ronnie Scott’s during her week in August. This will be a test - the audiences at Ronnie’s re not famously polite and attentive as far as the ‘support bands’ are concerned – but one I feel sure she and the band will pass.