Pizza Express Dean Street, 21st January 2016
Although Ian Shaw's nights at Dean Street's Pizza Express earlier last week had featured major artists like Liane Carroll and Claire Martin, the producer of his latest album The Theory of Joy (Thursday night), which was devoted to its launch, was packed – an indication of Shaw's drawing power on his own and very gratifying to the bigwigs in attendance from Harmonia Mundi, on whose Jazz Village label the album sits.
I say 'on his own', but one of the main points of the new album is that it marks the return of Ian to working in the classic format of the piano trio. And what a trio it is, with Barry Green (piano) Mick Hutton (bass) and Dave Ohm (drums) ensuring that the singer's own high-level keyboard skills are safely dispensed with and he can get on with presenting a unique talent – his astonishing voice.
Joni Mitchell has always been a Shaw favourite and the outing for In France They Kiss On Main Street, with that lovely 'rollin', rollin', rock and rollin' phrase, had Hutton reminding me of how Cecil McBee brought back the subtlety of the acoustic bass to fusion rhythm sections all those years ago with Lonnie Liston Smith. In contrast, Hutton again produced notes, on the somewhat drawn-out intro to My Foolish Heart, that sounded immense without being over-amped; whilst on the brisker tunes, Ohm's patterns around the kit, complete with stop-time bars, were immaculate and far from overbearing – a great celebration of his umpteenth birthday. Green, in solo after solo, showed genuine creativity while fulfilling the role of accompanist-to-singer to perfection; a magic trio, without question. There was a nod to Bowie in the second set, with Walking The Dead, from the album Earthling. It left me baffled about meaning, but impressed by mood and melody, while a ferocious burst of scat – he is one of the very few who can make it worthwhile – led into the more familiar territory (to me anyway) of Mel Tormé's Born To Be Blue, showing us his stunning vocal range, from deep bass to almost screaming falsetto, before getting down to cook with the rhythm section on the song itself.
Not sure if all the crowd were comfortable with it, but big respect for drawing attention to the plight of the refugees in Calais in his intro to My Brother, a song actually about his own brother (who died before he was born) but which has now become firmly associated with his Calais convictions and which has already been made into a minor hit by the excellent Robert Elms on Radio London. Just to show I am not unpaid PR for the man, I hated Got to Pick a Pocket or Two from Lionel Bart's Oliver – a terrible song from a mawkish meritricious show; drop it, please. To make up, the final number before a genuinely demanded encore, Ian Shaw's Somewhere Towards Love – surely one of the best tunes ever, it was achingly tender, and pure magic. A beautiful ending to an evening of swing, groove, melody, humour and, for a few moments, deep seriousness. Can't think of anyone else who could pull it off.