Review: Marlene VerPlanck at Ronnie's

Leon Nock sees US singer Marlene VerPlanck on her 26th UK tour and enjoys two hours of the most potent magic since Merlin gave up his day job

Incredibly Marlene VerPlanck has been touring the UK for 26 straight years; somehow everyone – including the lady herself – overlooked last year’s significant milestone so that the Silver anniversary is being celebrated this year and culminates in the recording of a new CD right here in London backed by her regular trio of John Pearce, Paul Morgan and Bobby Worth.

In some ways the gig at Ronnie’s is an ideal setting to get a handle on just what it is that keeps the UK fan-base both loyal and growing, for it brings out a full spectrum. There were those who think nothing of driving down from the Midlands and shelling out £40 or so for parking, Joe from Kennington with his copy of the 1959 vinyl Capitol album Jumpin’ At The Left Bank, in which she sings with the John La Salle Quartet, for Marlene to sign, and the young lady who confessed as the crowd shuffled in that she had not only never heard Marlene sing but never heard of her, period. I assured her that she was truly in for a treat and two and a half hours later she made a point of seeking me out, saying I was right and asking where she could buy a CD.

The first set replicated her latest CD on Audiophile which has garnered rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic (reviewed in JJ January 2015) and Marlene started as she meant to go on by overwhelming the auditors with the title track I Give Up, I’m In Love, a delightful confection by Johnny Mandel and Morgan Ames. Perhaps this is the place to remind and/or inform readers that on the CD Marlene is accompanied on three tracks by Glenn Franke’s Big Band, on four tracks by trio plus Harry Allen’s tenor, on five tracks by just a trio with, for good measure, four tracks featuring cornet solos by Warren Vaché, two with the big band and two with the trio. Here, as on the whole UK tour, Marlene was accompanied by arguably the finest trio currently working and I for one wouldn’t like to choose between John, Paul and Bobby and the personnel on the CD. Marlene has now worked with the trio for seven years straight and all four are so tight a wisp of cigarette smoke trying to get between them would throw in the towel in resignation.
The album is largely swingers and she had the crowd rocking from the first bar yet when she switched effortlessly to the wistful ballad Where Can I Go Without You you could hear a pin thinking about dropping and deciding against it.

The second set was equally memorable with the highlight, Too Late Now, one of the most gorgeous ballads of the 20th century, perfectly placed, three from the end.

In sum this was two hours of the most potent magic since Merlin gave up his day job.

Photo by Gordon Sapsed

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