The very intimate, cafe-like Green Note in Camden Town seemed just the perfect venue for the exquisite cabaret singer Bethany Jameson's and superb master accordionist Romano Viazzani's cabaret On The Banks Of The Seine with their newly formed Vérité Cabaret Quartet, which added violinist Declan Daly and bassist Ben Hazleton to the first two. And, despite its tiny stage area, or perhaps especially because of it, it was absolutely perfect, with a wonderful ambience and atmosphere that would have been hard to beat for this kind of cabaret show, with the Green Note also packed to the rafters.
On The Banks Of The Seine got underway with a brief instrumental introduction in the form of an excerpt from the superb Italian composer, accordionist and band leader Gigi Stok's delightful L'Italiano A Parigi, beautifully arranged by Viazzani. A very well chosen intro, too, as it recalls the characteristic Parisian musette music and style. At the end of this excerpt, Bethany Jameson made her entrance with a killer rendition of L’Accordéoniste that already raised the temperature to near fever pitch.
But Jameson and the Vérité Cabaret Quartet kept raising the temperature, and pushing the envelope, throughout the two sets of the show. Daly and Hazleton were the perfect addition and complement to Jameson and Viazzani, playing with passion as well as subtlety. Hazleton especially distinguished himself with his incisive, dexterous jazz-tinged bass.
Notable was the inclusion of Astor Piazzolla's Yo Soy Maria, from his wonderful if rarely heard tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires. Together with the following Tango For One - an original by Jameson, Rozenthuler & Viazzani - it further showed off Jameson's immense versatility and sensitivity.
Overall, the material was a well-chosen, delightful cocktail of French chansons as sung by Edith Piaf, some Jacques Brel, a smidgeon of Argentinean tango as already noted, a pinch of Hot Club de France and a bevy of outstanding original cabaret songs, including the show-stopping I Just Bought a Brand New Dress and Just Her Younger Man from Jameson and Viazzani's outstanding music drama The Accordionist from last year (albeit with altered lyrics, if memory does not deceive), served flaming and hot.
Jameson's and her Vérité Cabaret Quartet's storytelling was extraordinary and riveting, taking the highly enthusiastic audience from the tragic to the comic and back again with perfect ease. The lyrics of the new originals were always witty, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle, as befits a cabaret show. The chemistry among the quartet was remarkable and the exhilaration infectious.
Perhaps a chilling interpretation of something like Brel's Amsterdam or Piazzolla's Libertango with Grace Jones' spooky lyrics, to provide a huge contrast and temporarily cool things down a little might have been welcome somewhere, but that is a purely personal thought here. As is, certainly the selection of material was exquisite as already noted and really could not be faulted.
The performance of On The Banks Of The Seine was altogether delicious, exquisite and delectable, a rare, hugely enjoyable feast for the chanson and cabaret lover. Jameson's superb flexible and expressive voice and Viazzani's amazing accordion were an absolute delight.
By the time the closing Flambée Montalbanaise finished, fever pitch had long been left well behind, and the room was truly flambéed! The audience would not have let Ms. Jameson and Messrs. Viazzani, Daly and Hazleton escape with anything less than two encores without a riot ensuing, surely, and even then kept wanting more. The encores took the shape of breath-taking, heart-stopping interpretations of Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien and Milord, the like of which are truly rarely heard since the demise of La Piaf.
The one thing one is left wanting is for On The Banks Of The Seine to return for more performances in London as soon as possible, and a recording of this gorgeous show, ideally live. Come back soon, Vérité Cabaret Quartet and On The Banks Of The Seine, come back soon!
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