Jan Ponsford - At the 606 Club, Lots Road, Chelsea
Jan Ponsford (voc); Frances Knight (pno); Terry Pack (db); Winston Clifford (drms, bv)
Some artists inspire with their technical skill, some with their warmth and personality, some with their compositions, some with their choice of material. Jan Ponsford, at the renowned 606 Club did all of these and then some! A launch gig is so often just a publicity stunt to promote sales; and that’s a perfectly reasonable stance to take. But the chaps from Symbol Records, Jan’s label, clearly have jazz in their hearts rather than their wallets, and the commitment to great music came not only from Jan herself, but all her musicians of whom more later but her label as well. They were keen to talk about all of their upcoming releases, but not in a way that felt like marketing which was nice!
The 606 is so well known that descriptions aren’t needed, suffice it to say that into the tiny door and down the stairs is a journey to some of the best jazz gigs in the world. Ronnie Wood’s pictures lining the walls, great music before the main set and good wine and food make for a super evening, no matter who is billed.
Jan set off with, understandably, the first, eponymous track off her newly released album, "Same Air" , and immediately her stunning technique was on display. Jan hardly needs a mic in the relatively intimate space that is the 606, but when she does use one it is with simply the best technique I have ever heard. If I were recording her, I would just take my hands off the fader and let her mix herself live! No compressors needed here!
"Same Air" is a bluesy, lyrical prayer for global harmony. Now that may sound corny, but in fact, Jan’s commitment not only to her music but to a vision of a better world is neatly and beautifully conveyed in this moving piece. Frances Knight’s lyrical piano, and the rhythm section of Winston Clifford on drums and Terry Pack on bass provide an exciting underpinning to this complex number.
Tom Jobim’s "Agua be Beber" was next, and featured a Ponsford trade mark the old "invisible trumpet" ploy! Jan uses her mouth as a brass instrument to startling and very realistic effect. In sympathy, Terry Pack used his double bass as a set of bongos, Frances Knight played accordion very well! and Winstone Clifford eschewed the sticks and brushes in favour of his hands. An exciting, pulsating number which really shows off Jan’s very wide range of vocal skills.
"In the Sun" was a hypnotic, image filled painting of a composition, and feature the considerable skills of Winston Clifford on not only drums but backing vocals as well. The texture and colour of the two voices made for a contrasting piece, particularly when Terry Pack took a well appreciated and skillful solo.
Time now for a standard one of two on the new album this one was "Teach me Tonight" , a particular favourite of mine, and I was certainly not disappointed. I am a great lover of scat singing, and Jan’s beautiful interpretation of this great song included a fantastic scat chorus or five! Another double bass solo led us towards the nicest "fade" ending that I have ever heard. Simply gorgeous!
Closing the first set was "Compared to What?" , another chance to hear the Invisible Trumpet . And so to a quick chat with Jan and the band, and a glass or two of some of the best house Chardonnay
As the first set was wonderful, then "’S Wonderful" seemed the perfect way to start the second. Taken at a ripping pace, this classic song with a classic performance inevitable reminded me of Ella Fitzgerald but Jan’s warmth and depth really brought life to this. And of course, the end well, suffice it to say, it caught me out with a mouthful of the 606’s great linguine and a sudden VERY sudden stop! Great stuff!
The third number in the second set was a bit low key. A rather meandering song called "Universal Love" , it nevertheless had a good strong hook, but rather left me wondering where it was going; good performance, weak number.
"When the Birds Start to Sing" was the next and the band refer to this one as "When your bird starts to sing" . And on this particular night, a mobile went off in the intro, so it was rapidly re-re-titled "When your Phone Starts to Ring" . This was a great number, a bit more "off the wall" than some of the other stuff, with elements of the free jazz that was so evocative of the fifties. It also featured something I had been hoping to hear, a drum solo from the astonishingly talented Mr Winstone Clifford. My, but this lad can play! Drum solos are a bit of a variable feast, but this was pure excitement and innovation from first to last. Great stuff! A disjointed and angular section led this number to a flourish of a conclusion and was rightly applauded well!
The final number was the wonderful "Humdrum Blues" written by Oscar Brown. Jan Ponsford’s power and emotion were really brought to play here and with a freeform middle 32, featuring all the players and demonstrating their naturally empathy with each other, this was a grand finale to a superb and very enjoyable gig.
If you get the chance to see Jan Ponsford live, take it she is a classic vocalist, with all the technique in the world but far from being purely a technician, she imparts the blues, feel, emotion and power that makes her stand out in a sea of sometimes (in today’s marketed "jazz") inadequate and cynical performances. I loved it.
Reviewed by Nigel Bourne