Review: David McAlmont in Norwich




Bruce Lindsay witnessed a memorable performance as David McAlmont brought Billie Holiday's Carnegie Hall concert to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

On 10 November 1956, Billie Holiday played two shows at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall. On 11 May 2018, David McAlmont played a single, sold-out, set at the less famous but still excellent Norwich Playhouse, on the opening night of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

McAlmont’s performance paid tribute to Holiday’s Carnegie Hall concerts, featuring songs interspersed with monologues about her life (at the original concerts, readings from Holiday's Lady Sings The Blues took place between songs) and thankfully without attempting a slavish note-by-note recreation of that evening in New York. McAlmont (pictured right at an earlier concert by Anthony Elvy) was in fine voice, making the most of his three-octave vocal range, his stage presence and his sense of drama. It's been over 20 years since his Top 10 hit, Yes, with Bernard Butler. The intervening years have given McAlmont added gravitas and lent a maturity and resonance to his voice: on this evidence, he has the potential to be a welcome addition to the list of contemporary jazz singers, if that's the path he wants to take.

After a short (and slightly nervous) spoken introduction from pianist Alex Webb, McAlmont entered and launched into Lady Sings The Blues. Clad all in white, in contrast to the instrumentalists’ black attire, McAlmont was a striking visual focus. As soon as he started singing it was clear that he would be an equally striking musical focus, too. For the next hour and a half McAlmont paced every corner of the stage as he performed some of Holiday’s best-known and best-loved songs, telling her story (and making some connections with his own childhood) in his between-songs narrative.

Webb - who also acted as arranger and musical director – was joined on stage by Sue Richardson on trumpet, Katy Jungmann on tenor and clarinet, Flo Moore on double bass and Sophie Alloway on drums. The quintet provided understated but effective backing for the singer, particularly on the ballads (although a sudden move up tempo on Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do seemed to catch a few band members by surprise). McAlmont’s interpretations ranged from the sassy and hot (What A Little Moonlight) through to the tender and affecting (Don’t Explain, My Man). For me, the highlight of the show was the piano and vocal duet version of God Bless The Child, the evening’s penultimate song: with just McAlmont and Webb on stage, it was a touching, beautifully sung number that helped end this memorable concert with a flourish.


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