Review: Dee Dee Bridgewater at LJF 2012

Sally Evans-Darby drops in for a late-night serving of explosive vocal jazz by Dee Dee Bridgewater and her quartet at Ronnie Scott's, Soho

Sometimes time, mood, setting and music come together in a particular way so that a certain kind of magic is created. At Ronnie Scott's, on a Saturday night in Soho, with the inestimable Dee Dee Bridgewater and her excellent quartet on stage, that magic existed from the moment the band took up their places and instruments and Dee Dee began to sing.

Dee Dee BridgewaterMs Bridgewater is known as a peerless live performer, and she was certainly electric on this occasion. An incredibly expressive, physical presence on the stage, she transfixed the audience from start to finish – whether standing centre-stage and belting out a thrilling cadenza, or dancing around the platform while the members of her band each took a solo, or chatting girlishly to the audience between songs.

She began slow and soft with The Music Is The Magic, an Abbey Lincoln composition. This warmed things up for the energetic Latin number Let Me, which gave the audience their first taste of Dee Dee's famous scat breaks. These, of course, were exhilarating in their execution: virtuosic flights from the melody that shot skyward before returning safely to earth.

The audience was then brought intimately close for Besame Mucho. This was a tender, moving rendition; Dee Dee took off her oversized glasses for one of the only times during the performance, and the spotlight lighting up just her face created for a moment an image reminiscent of old Billie Holiday photographs. This was followed by Speak Low, after which she seemed to sense the audience might be lulled into a dream-like state – "Come on," she urged her band, "we've got to get back up or I'll fall asleep!"

Dee Dee's sound throughout the evening was unfailingly arresting: explosive staccato notes mingled easily with notes held long and steady for what felt like entire minutes. Her band was made up of musicians who are each excellent players in their own right: pianist Edsel Gomez, bassist Stefan Lievestro, drummer Kenny Phelps, and trumpeter Theo Croker. Croker in particular was exciting to watch.

The intimate, bluesy numbers were absorbing and Dee Dee delivered them with all the assured flair of a long-time jazz performer. She also clearly enjoyed engaging with the audience, and had an air of mischief about her: taking the bassist's music away from him while he played the intro to Fine and Mellow, she returned it to him with a giggle before launching into the lyric. Dee Dee's devotion to Billie Holiday songs was also on display in Lady Sings The Blues and God Bless The Child.

When it was time for the set to end (with the words from Speak Low – "too soon, too soon" – still echoing in our ears), Dee Dee's manager appeared in the back doorway. Like an errant girl being told it's time to go to bed, she needed some coaxing to leave the stage, and was still singing away as she walked out the door. A wonderful storyteller and a sublimely stirring performer: a night with Dee Dee Bridgewater is a night to remember.

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