Melody Gardot‘s return to the London Jazz Festival didn’t get off to the best of starts. The crowd were distinctly not amused by being made to wait nearly 40 minutes after the 24-year-old chanteuse was due to start, at which point she finally deigned to put in an appearance.
Matters weren’t helped by the management playing what seemed to be one song on a short loop during the interval and subsequent wait. So the audience weren’t in an especially forgiving mood, with several rounds of jeery clapping ahead of her eventual entrance.
And they gave her a frosty reception as she walked through the auditorium and down towards the stage – prompting her to shout “This ain’t no church, but it ain’t no funeral either!”
It wasn’t clear how the evening was going to pan out from here, with Gardot’s first movements on stage revolving around a curious display of falling to her knees, pouring sand and then looking at it contemplatively – presumably making some reference to the passing of time and the general futility of existence.
This was quickly followed by some distinctly abstract sounds emanating from the instruments on stage – all very much at odds with the general laid-back vibe of her albums. For her part, Gardot hoiked herself over the front of a grand piano and proceeded to twang the strings inside, rather than the more usual method of sitting down and tickling the ivories. What the people who have to the maintain the Steinways of the Southbank Centre made of her antics isn’t known.
Eventually this tomfoolery gave way to something slightly more conventional, in the form of The Rain, from her most recent album My One And Only Thrill. It felt impressively intimate, given the size of the venue, and the crowd threw its weight behind her after Your Heart Is As Black As Night.
After introducing her saxophonist Irwin Hall – who she only met a month ago, at the Tokyo Jazz Festival – she left the stage, noting that we’d be venturing to Paris through the soundscapes he was about to create. She left us with the memorable thought: “Please consider any turbulence to be a butt massage”. Hall’s musical abilities had not been understated – he’d been a strong performer all evening, and atone point during his solo was playing two saxophones at once; no mean feat.
Returning, Gardot seemed to have settled down and looked like she was enjoying herself a little more. She thanked the audience for their patience, and noted that it had been “a long day and a long tour”, as well as being the second anniversary of her first coming to London.
She served up some wonderful Brazilian rhythms during If The Stars Were Mine, which built upon the album version, and also included touches of exotica in the vein of Les Baxter. Moving across the continent, we also had a dash of tango during Love Me Like A River Does.
Gardot recalled a story about being stranded in Portugal for a while when she lost her passport, and encountering the word “saudade”, which is particularly difficult to translate, but roughly means longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost. It was a preface to performing Deep Within The Corners of My Mind, and gave it a rather poignant dimension.
Things headed in a bluesy direction with Who Will Comfort Me, albeit with half-hearted singing along by the crowd, when directed. An a cappella version which followed shortly afterward seemed to be the encore, and people duly applauded and made for the exits.
But after a short while the band came back on and played a killer version of the jazz standard Caravan, a piece first performed by Duke Ellington back in 1937. It was rather unexpected, and ended the evening on a high. Getting the crowd back on her side was a big ask, but she managed it.