This Thursday's Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho date - the official launch for Sarah Gillespie's new album In The Current Climate with Gilad Atzmon, had sold out a good week in advance. Little surprise then that the club rapidly filled to capacity and some people, apparently unaware that the date had sold out, regrettably had to be turned away at the door.
For some reason that I haven't been able to fathom yet, the Pizza always seems noisier than most Jazz clubs before the start of the set. Thursday night was no exception. Still, that - and the less than sterling beer (by no means unique to the Pizza, I hasten to add! One really would wish jazz clubs would offer at least one decent ale.) - only adds to the eagerness of anticipation of the music.
All that was quickly forgotten however when the first set started. Sarah Gillespie and her Quartet of jazz giant Gilad Atzmon, Ben Bastin, and Enzo Zirilli gave the kind of stellar performance that you only get from truly world-class musicians and that by now you've come to expect from the incandescent Sarah Gillespie.
Opening with the new album's title track In The Current Climate, Gillespie set the kind of tone and quality with which she meant to, and did, continue. Simply jaw-dropping. The bass clarinet riff of the opener on the album was here played in the chalumeau of the standard clarinet by Atzmon, still preserving the comic, mocking effect and countering Gillespie's dextrous guitar and beautiful vocal phrasing.
The first set presented a mix of material from both the new and Sarah Gillespie's debut album Stalking Juliet, including the exquisite Malicious Simone. In addition, Gillespie delighted with a couple of blues/jazz standards. Penned by Jimmy Cox in 1923 and originally recorded by the great Bessie Smith the same year, Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out was a stunning tribute by Ms. Gillespie, with such intensity one could feel all the misery.
Fortunately, this was off-set by an extremely witty and even humorous treatment of the 1931 Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons penned All Of Me. Here, Atzmon also revealed his so far little known but quite remarkable gift for scat vocals with superlative effect, sung at double-tempo and engaging in delightfully witty exchanges with not only Gillespie but the whole group.
The stunning Sarah Gillespie is so much more than simply a singer-songwriter (and the finest at that since Janis Joplin, easily putting even greats like Joni Mitchell in the shade) or a jazz singer. She is a total performance phenomenon that simply leaves one speechless (I am sure Ms. Gillespie would know where I am coming from here!) and totally electrified.
This 'total performance' also includes her superb skills as an engaging, charismatic and witty raconteur. In particular, her exchanges with her collaborator and fellow frontliner Gilad Atzmon were notable as ranging from the entertainingly funny to the downright combustible. On occasion, Gillespie also skillfully drew her rhythm section into the banter.
The hour or so of the first set seemed to just fly by, but with a level of intensity such as Sarah Gillespie maintains the break is almost essential, both for musicians and audience alike.
The second set came principally from the new album, In The Current Climate. Especial highlights had to be the tour de force Nova Scotia and the piece de resistance, Lucifer's High Chair. Both of these are very demanding vocally but Ms. Gillespie made it all sound so supremely and deceptively easy.
The latter piece is essentially a very bluesy song, which suddenly is utterly shattered by an almost archetypal Celtic chorus that could have come straight out of some Gaelic folk festival. The effect of this contrast is simply earthshattering and an utterly delicious delight.