Norah Jones: Live at Ronnie Scott’s

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Jones’s Come Away With Me album was a great example of highly effective music marketing, using what might seem like the most unlikely of techniques – selling an album and artist as jazz, when in fact what they’re actually providing is something else. The actual musical content was really much more a form of country-tinged easy-listening pop, with Jones surrounded by very high quality, high profile jazz musicians.

Here, some 15 years or so later at Ronnie Scott’s in London, she’s still surrounded by very high quality jazz musicians, albeit with a much smaller line-up. The presence of these jazz musicians of course doesn’t necessarily make it a jazz gig, but in comparison to the performances on Come Away With Me, this live set does have a little more of a jazz sensibility, appropriate to the venue.

Overall, it’s perhaps best described as “jazz-lite”, with Jones accompanying her own singing at the piano, and you can understand why a singer might want to do that, for numerous reasons. However, if the piano bench was occupied by a jazz pianist, perhaps Sam Yahel for example, who’s guested on Hammond organ in the studio with Jones, then I’d be far more likely to call it jazz in a fuller sense, provided that the pianist and other musicians were given sufficient space to open out. This is no slight on Jones’s piano playing, which is highly effective in accompanying her vocal and she provides some nice fills and interludes between the vocal entries, but she isn’t really a jazz pianist.

The running time of nearly two hours includes an interview and bonus track (“Burn”), but even so the actual live programme itself runs to around an hour and a half, which is a very full set at Ronnie’s, and in this case it was a little too long for me. Blade and Thomas provide highly sensitive accompaniment throughout, but they’re not given much space at all to stretch out in a jazz sense. Jones’s singing is as you might expect if you’ve heard her in the studio, except for a very brief issue with intonation near the start of the set on “After the Fall”. Her presentation is relaxed, like much of the music, including her brief chats in between tunes.

What other tunes does she perform here? There’s “And Then There Was You” where Thomas first brings out the bow, and there are some tunes included that you’d assume she’d play because of their popularity alone, like “Don’t Know Why” and “Nightingale”. The ingrained country influence is initially most overt on “Flipside”, around half way through the set, where Thomas switches to electric bass. 

“Nightingale” starts unexpectedly with Thomas playing arco on the bass, which I thought at around the hour mark was going to be some kind of additional feature for the sake of variety, giving the song a different kind of treatment to the studio recording. However, he was stopped in his tracks by Jones halting the band completely, and clearly saying over the microphone that the bow “sucks” and they were to play the song differently. I’m sure a high-calibre musician like Thomas wasn’t overly pleased with this, particularly as it was cast in stone for a much wider audience online, and on DVD and Blu-ray. 

There’s even more of the strong country flavour towards the end of the set with “Carry On”, where surprisingly Thomas is allowed a very short bass solo, followed by the aforementioned “Don’t Know Why” and “I’ve Got to See You Again”. The set is very warmly received by the audience, and this will no doubt make a great product for Norah Jones fans, but there’s not much here for the jazz enthusiast.

Norah Jones: Live at Ronnie Scott’s, with Brian Blade (drums) and Christopher Thomas (bass). Eagle Rock Entertainment, 116 minutes, Blu-ray