Kim Cypher at Pizza Express, London


If you tell me someone is “funky” you may as well say he/she ran with the Hitler Youth, ran interference for Vlad The Impaler or was an Advance Man for Attila The Hun. I accept that says more about me than the funky one but, hey, what can I tell you, I’m a meat-and-potatoes man. In my book nouvelle cuisine is strictly for the birds.

On the other hand, someone was kind enough to invite me to a gig featuring Kim Cypher, who may well be the epitome of funk. And because my momma didn’t raise no bad-mannered chillun I accepted and prepared to be stoic.

The gig went down on a Monday evening, not the most fortuitous of dates – in fact in Manhattan many venues are dark on Mondays with events running Tuesday through Sunday. Whilst it wouldn’t be accurate to say they were shooting elk in the balcony there were definite gaps among the auditors.

Kim and her musicians, a quartet, showed on time, fought their way to ringside and climbed onto the stand unannounced without apparently an emcee between the five of them and though they turned out to be accomplished musically they made a motley crew. Guitarist Chris Cobbson resembled nothings so much as a CPA caught in the headlights of an IRS Audit, bassist Mike Green looked like one half of a mom and pop grocery store on Bushwick Avenue, whilst drummer Mike Cypher, whose work-clothes of choice included a flat cap, was a dead ringer for one of Lord Snooty’s Bash Street kids, staples of the Beano comic circa 1938. Alas, Jean-Paul Gard on piano and organ was shielded from my view but may well have been a cross between Lord Montague and Freddy Garrity.

…the audience was completely caught up in the mood, laughing, stamping and clapping in sync.

They kicked off the first set with a great Hoagy Carmichael ballad, The Nearness Of You. Perhaps I should have said a once great Carmichael ballad because Kim elected to take it at a clip more suited to another Carmichael number, Up A Lazy River.

The second offering, Comes Love, was more or less right on the money tempo-wise with Kim’s vocal weaving in and out between tenor, guitar and bass solos. The only other non-original number in the first set was Blue Moon and somehow it seems permissible to take liberties with such a venerable old war-horse even if it did seem at times as if the players were improvising on five different numbers.

In the interests of accuracy I should perhaps record that even at this relatively early stage of the proceedings the audience was completely caught up in the mood, laughing, stamping and clapping in sync.

For me the highlight of the evening was the second set opener, another ballad by Pee Wee King, Redd Stewart and Chilton Price; You Belong To Me was a mega-hit for Jo Stafford in 1952. Ms Stafford was renowned for possessing perfect pitch, an attribute that alas eludes Ms Cypher. Nevertheless, she delivered the song at the correct tempo and with feeling.

For the rest of the evening the ensemble seemed to have one joint avowed intent – to deliver more wailing that any time since the Pequod was working out of New Bedford, an ambition in which they succeeded admirably.

Kim Cypher at Pizza Express, Dean St, London, 8 April 2019