Review: Clare Teal & Trio

Sally Evans-Darby says Clare Teal and her trio's tribute to Ella Fitzgerald was a fine combination of wit, charm, grace and inspiring musicianship

As 2017 draws to a close, there have been many and varied events up and down the country to mark Ella Fitzgerald’s centenary. On a bitterly cold December night, one of these – Clare Teal and trio’s Ella Remembered at Lancaster University – was full of warmth and good-natured cheer.

Hosted by Lancaster Arts, the public arts arm of the institution, Teal (pictured right) and her trio – comprising Jim Watson on piano, Alec Dankworth on bass and Ben Reynolds on drums – paid tribute to Ella with an upbeat, engaging couple of hours exploring the singer’s vast oeuvre, from her early days with Chick Webb to her later bop years.

Clare Teal was in very fine form throughout the evening; her vocal elastically fluent as she sprinted through the faster numbers and wonderfully sonorous in ballad territory. To open the set, the several hundred of us in the university’s Great Hall were treated to a lively A-Tisket, A-Tasket, that notoriously catchy nursery rhyme with a jazz twist that catapulted Ella into the spotlight in 1938. Sung with a driving verve by Teal with tongue-in-cheek backing vocals by the band (“Was it green?” “No, no, no, no!”), this segued neatly into Manhattan, a chance for Teal to swing gently with the piece’s mid-tempo style.

Where Teal and her trio really got going, though, was with a blistering run-down of Just One Of Those Things, complete with breathtaking drum flourishes from Reynolds at a pace that snapped everyone to attention. Teal’s vocal soared in these fast-paced pieces, sailing with staccato precision at the top of her range with some creative vocalese. “I’m not really a scat singer” was her disclaimer before launching into Ella’s staple scat vehicle Mr Paganini, which she delivered in pitch-perfect imitation of Ella’s 1961 recording of the piece: no disclaimer necessary. That Old Black Magic was another satisfyingly pacey and true-to-the-record highlight.

As well as running through some material from Ella’s Songbooks – those of Harold Arlen, the Gershwins, and Cole Porter – Teal reserved a special spot for what she described as the perfect combination of lyric, melody and rhythm: My Funny Valentine. Her enjoyment of this song was clear in her richly intimate vocal, complemented by a strikingly gorgeous piano solo from Watson – so ear-catching it had everyone craning their necks for a glimpse of his fingers on the keys.

Things were neatly wrapped up at the end of the evening with a rendition of one of Ella’s recordings that was so popular, particularly in this country – Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye. It nearly morphed into a good old knees-up with the audience encouraged to sing along and wave their "torches" (phone-lights). The final word from Teal and her trio was Ella’s version of Mack The Knife from Live In Berlin, 1960 – complete with exquisitely fluffed lyrics.

Throughout the event Teal was an extremely gracious host, her wit and personable charm between numbers adding to the pleasure of hearing her sing live. Backing from her sympathetic and spirited trio, who each had several rather extraordinary solos throughout, made this more than "just" a tribute concert. Ella’s legacy is alive and well, and Clare Teal and her trio in their current incarnation are really worth catching if you possibly can.

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