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NO one currently brings more passion, vocal dexterity and sincerity to their music than Sarah Jane Morris. Whether it’s railing against injustice or infusing the songs of the late great John Martyn with a little bit of magic dust, Morris live is not to be missed.
Appearing at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club for a three-night run – some 26 years after making her debut in her Soho ‘front room’ – Morris was on premier-cru form as she delivered a fine menu of songs from her latest album Sweet Little Mystery. Interpretations of songs written by Martyn whom Morris admits she had a crush on as a 14-year-old – indeed one that she has yet to shake off and probably never will. For the record, she recently celebrated her 60th birthday, although you wouldn’t think it judging by her dynamic on-stage presence.
Although love songs in their own right, the stamp of Morris – and her left hand, right hand man Tony Remy – is all over them. Her deep, deep voice gives Martyn’s lyrics an extra emotional edge, turning songs such as Couldn’t Love You More, Send Me One Line (not on the album) and Solid Air (Martyn’s tribute to Nick Drake) into magical music tours. I defy anyone to listen to Solid Air and not experience a massive attack of the goosebumps.....
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Sarah Jane Morris & Tony Remy
Sweet Little Mystery
One of the finest of improvisational jazz voices and most fluid of intricate guitarists has joined their supple skills together to create a supreme homage to one of folk/jazz's more colourful personalities. In fact, they breathe new life with their astute interpretations of songs created by maverick influencer John Martyn on this lovingly curated album.
Composed about Martyn's fellow tragic folk minstrel Nick Drake, Morris' extraordinary contralto voice plumbs the fathomless depths on Martyn's signature song Solid Air. Sassily re-inventing some of Martyn's more mawkish tunes such as Call Me with jazzy notes and re-shaping Carmine with her feral vocal attack is a masterstroke by Morris and Co.
The heart-wrenching beauty of Couldn't Love You More, May You Never and One World are magnificently re-touched and sonically sculpted into songs beyond their original forms.
Like spooning musical medicine into the ear, the beating heart of this exquisitely crafted album lies in the subtle performances by Morris and her ensemble which elevate these bitter-sweet songs into epic, ethereal mysteries.
This was a magnificent return to Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club for Sarah Jane Morris with an uplifting set centered upon her latest work with longstanding collaborator Tony Rémy to deliver revelatory interpretations of the sublime songbook of John Martyn, with 'Couldn't love you more' a beguiling and soulful highlight of the first set.
The sumptuous talents of her regular band of Tony Rémy (guitar), Henry Thomas (bass) Tim Cansfield (guitar), Martyn Barker (drums) were delightfully augmented by the special guest appearance of Dominic Miller, whose signature lithe and expressive counter-melodies illuminated many of the pieces, including an elegant and mournful take of his own 'Fragile' summoner's tale.
Morris and Rémy's talent for reimagining the temper and tone of classic songs was perfectly exemplified on the arresting interpretation of 'Imagine', that transposed the detached idealism of Lennon's original into a forthright anthem on the plight and rights of the modern-day refugee.
An utterly hypnotic 'Solid air' blew open the second set with the ethereal beginning of Martyn's lament to Nick Drake acquiring an almost transcendental groove as it shifted gears.
A stately and gospel-tinged take on Dylan's 'I shall be released' prefaced a slightly incongruous, yet totally joyous 'Don't leave me this way'. Martyn's redemptive 'I don't know about evil' provided a captivating coda for a wonderful opening performance for Morris' three-night residency at this auspicious venue.
A related five-track studio EP 'Sweet little mystery' is already available with a full-length album to follow www.sarahjanemorris.co.uk.
ANDY RAWLL – RECORD COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
Sarah Jane Morris review: An incandescent homage to John Martyn
With her mellifluous delivery and four-octave range, Sarah Jane Morris could hum a contacts list and still dazzle. Little wonder, then, that her take on the music of John Martyn, the late singer/songwriter who straddled folk, blues, jazz and rock — as indeed does Morris — felt incandescent.
“He was an outsider, a purveyor of truth,” she said, all red curls and swirling petticoats, introducing covers from forthcoming Martyn-inspired album Sweet Little Mystery. While songs such as Solid Air and Head and Heart retained their original hypnotic fragility, each came with new vocal embellishments that illuminated sentiments buried within and theatrical gestures that boldly acted them out.
The musical line-up was similarly inspired: kit drums and four guitars including an acoustic wielded by longtime collaborator Tony Remy, a man “too cool to sweat”, grinned Morris. Elsewhere, a cover of Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart saw Morris in husky full throttle.
Social issues loomed large; Morris spoke truth to power, calling for peace and understanding and lamenting Brexit, anecdotally and in song: Don't Leave Me This Away, her 1986 smash disco hit with the Communards, and a rowdy singalong encore, has never felt more resonant.
As evidenced by her recent 102-minute set at Brassiere Zedel, a stone's throw from London's Piccadilly Circus, 57 year old Morris is very much in sparkling form. Not one of the 12 songs she performed failed to hit the right note with the evening finishing far too early with a rousing rendition of 'I Shall be Released' which had the sell-out crowd screaming for more (she would have obliged if it was not for the fact that the room had to be turned around quickly for La Voix and her pianist).
The ex-lead singer of 1980s band The Republic delivered a performance that displayed the full range of her talent. She was superbly accompanied on stage by guitarists Tony Remy and Tim Cansfield (wonderful on vocals in Morris's version of 'Piece of My Heart' where he adds' I wish Trump would go away').