2013 - National - Reviews

Guardian Review 09/2013

There's no hiding place at a Sarah Jane Morris gig – either from her opulent, multi-octave voice and raw emotional clout that recalls Nina Simone and Janis Joplin, or from her lyrics that explore love and pain, sex crimes, war crimes, Catholicism and contraception – and a whole uncompromising bunch more.

In between, Morris will belt out Stevie Wonder's Superstition with all the soulful energy she displayed a quarter-century back on the Communards' 1986 disco hit, Don't Leave Me This Way.

On this tour, Morris is showcasing new songs she has recently written with Italian guitarist Antonio Forcione in a powerful quartet also featuring cellist Jenny Adejayan, and Brazilians Adriano Adewale (percussion) and Matheus Nova (acoustic bass guitar).

Forcione took the stage first, stunning the audience with his unique, multi-idiom acoustic technique, as percussive as it is harmonic and melodic. Then came Morris to strip open a sung-and-spoken diary of sexual obsession, and then darken the picture with a narrative spurred by the 2006 Ipswich sex-worker killings – a hair-raising drama intensified by Forcione's tingling harmonics and abrasive chords.

The guitarist then played I Heard it Through the Grapevine as a solo tour de force that mimicked a sizeable band, and Morris sang Superstition with a boldness that brought the lyrics close to abstract sounds. Rickie Lee Jones' She Was Pregnant in May drew on Morris's richest low tones, and though her new Vatican-confronting song (she's a big star in Italy) wasn't polemic at its most eloquent, few other artists could get a Ronnie Scott's crowd singing "to wear a condom, or not to wear a condom" as a gleeful piece of audience participation.

Her ensuing tribute to her ailing mother was haunting, heartfelt and nostalgic, and the whole show suggested that though Sarah Jane Morris has enjoyed some inspiring partnerships over the years, this latest incarnation with Forcione is already sounding like one of her best.

• At the Stables, Wavendon on Wednesday, and the Hippodrome, London, in the London jazz festival on 23 and 24 November.

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