Ali Affleck’s Speakeasy Sessions, New Orleans Jazz and Blues, Moody Moonshine (The Outhouse, 10-12 Aug : 7pm : 1hr)

“A masterclass in real grassroots jazz”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

What I love about the Fringe is how often the most wonderful things can occur in the most bizarre places. In the upstairs room of a pub down a side street in the New Town I was treated to a real jazz feast by Ali Affleck and The Copper Cats Quintet.

The setup was nothing grand: six musicians squeezed onto a tiny stage and 50 or so seats for the sellout crowd. To open, the Copper Cats played a lively instrumental piece, giving us a glimpse into the talents of the individual band members, and then Ms Affleck took to the stage.

The setlist pleasingly contained precious few well-known numbers, so this was a masterclass in real grassroots jazz in every sense of the word. While it took a couple of songs for the group to really get going, something “clicked” in Affleck’s voice during the sultry A Good Man is Hard to Find, and the mood went up a notch. Her voice was deep and smooth and I wanted to just wrap myself up in it. It was a real privilege to witness a singer that channels Billie Holiday with so much charm and poise.

Later on, Affleck’s high notes sparkled in Electric Chair Blues, and this was the moment that I really felt like I had been transported to a basement jazz bar somewhere in old-school, downtown New Orleans. And that’s where I stayed for the rest of this gig.

The cheeky Diga Diga Doo showed off Affleck’s playful side, and He Likes it Slow was velvety, soulful and divinely decadent. Penultimate number Egyptian Ella – the band’s favourite – was a roaring romp of a tune that had all of us tapping our feet in time, and My Man was graceful, seductive and left us all wanting more.

While Affleck’s vocals were mesmerising, this was far from a solo show. Dick Lee on the clarinet was stunning in his riffs and runs, as was Colin Steele on the trumpet. Indeed, the band showed great togetherness and comradery (with a hint of friendly competition in trying to outdo each other in some of the improvised sections), so there was always something interesting happening visually as well as the stunning soundscape.

A real treat for all jazz lovers, catch them while (and where!) you can.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 11 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Oxford Gargoyles (C : 5-15 August : 13.00 : 50 mins)

“A flawless vocal performance”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

It seems somewhat incredulous that I last saw the Oxford Gargoyles at the Fringe nine years ago. And I guess what’s most pleasing is the evolution in style since then – from what was previously a supremely talented but somewhat serious choir, to a much more risky and fun-loving bunch, with the same level of musical talent.

After a slightly bizarre introduction, the show opened with gospel number from Disney’s Hercules: That’s the Gospel Truth, which although impressive, perhaps had a slightly too complex arrangement that to the average punter would probably have sounded quite chaotic. Indeed, this was a theme that, being harsh, was true throughout their 50-minute set: amazing vocal talent that was sometimes lost behind some very complex arrangements.

What I imagine the group would hail as their “money song” was the most bizarre mash-up that I have ever heard including (among others): Stanford’s Evening Canticles in C, G and B flat; Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed Delivered; Bach’s Magnificat; and even some 90s rock thrown in for good measure. Again, vocally very impressive, and I’m sure music geeks will go nuts for it, but for the layman it is quite difficult to enjoy properly with so much going on.

In saying that, this is a vocal group that absolutely knows is niche in the a capella market, and their songs were in the most part performed in their very individual style. A beautiful, soulful rendition of Let It Be, and a much simpler mash-up of jazz classics including Beyond the Sea were very distinctive to the Gargoyle’s sound. The haunting and simple Blame it on my Youth was perhaps my favourite of the evening though, going to show that they’ve still got all their old tricks, as well as having learnt some new.

The show closed with a song that I never thought I would hear from an acapella, especially a jazz acapella: Shania Twain’s Man, I feel Like a Woman. This number perhaps most evidently summed up the gutsiness this group now has, incorporating humour, original arrangement and a flawless vocal performance. It was delivered with real panache and was a great way to close the show.

For me it’s great to see so much freshness and originality alive and well in university a capella groups, and I hope the Oxford Gargoyles keep up their good work.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 9 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Bonsoir Monsieur Nightfall (Assembly Roxy, 5 Aug – 30 Aug : 22:45 : 1hr)

“A voice so deep and gloriously textured you could happily drown in it.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars  Outstanding

In French (I’m told) there’s a term “à l’ouest” which, if not taken literally, means a dreamer, or someone “from another planet”. It seems only fitting then that Helenē Clark not only made the long journey west from France to Britain, but is also utterly out of this world.

Taking inspiration from her time out on the streets, Clark’s set was an audial rollercoaster, ranging from almost stingingly raw despair to jubilation and joy. Deeply varied to say the least, but it did so without ever feeling disjointed – owing in large part to Clark’s evocative and smoky singing. She has a voice so deep and gloriously textured you could happily drown in it. Up against a gauntlet of styles ranging from junk guitar to tango, Clark’s range and tone were utterly without fault.

But the mightiest mountains do not stand alone. And whilst the main event was undeniably Clark, full credit must be given to her backing instrumentalists, who all were utterly on point with their performances and energy. Andy Shuttleworth and Dick Playfair especially impressed, the former showing off a beautiful and often mesmerising skill in fingerpicking, and the latter scoring points for utterly blowing me away with the strength and energy of his punchy jazz trumpeteering.

Of course, no show is without shortcomings. Clark’s vocal tone sometimes betrayed her enunciation, meaning that her lyrical work sometimes felt wasted as certain verses were lost to a rumbling growl. And, whilst her stories between songs added substance, they sometimes bordered on good natured but stunted rambling.
But any and all faults were immediately forgiven by the closing number, referred to cheekily by Clarke as their “Calypso Carnival”. It typified what made Bonsoir Monsieur Nightfall so engrossing: never before have I seen a group of musicians so obviously having a blast with their craft, and doing so with such sustain and finesse. Sorrowful, sultry and absurdly fun all in one, ‘Bonsoir Monsieur Nightfall’ never missed a beat.

If you can sit through this show without at least once cracking a smile, I’d recommend getting your pulse checked. This is not one to be missed.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED