It’s not always what it says on the tin. Almost, maybe, but not quite. Take a small child, eight, nine years old; send him to the store, ask him to bring back a tin of red salmon. He comes back with a tin of pink salmon, maybe even tuna, okay, not what you asked for but recognisably fish, in a tin, and even part of the same family. Wrong, whichever way you slice it but still light years from a hanging offence. As part of the London Jazz Festival you see something billed as “The Voices Of Jazz”; you might figure Ella, Sarah, Lady Day, Satchmo, Jack Teagarden, so you shell out, take your seat and they wheel out Jo Stafford, Pattie Page, Jane Powell, Dick Haymes, Dean Martin, not, perhaps, what you were hoping for but major foul-up? Hardly. There were, after all, voices, in the case of Etcetera, a hundred of them and they were backed by the Chris Ingram trio, a jazz outfit in anyone’s book, the rest is semantics.
There were three groups and they divvied up the evening between them albeit a tad unevenly with the first two sharing the first half with each other and The Swingles sharing the entire second half with themselves. First up was VoCollective, a relatively new (three years) sextet – three male, three female – who work acapella so any jazz content has to come from themselves. They were allotted a mere five numbers with no encore and proved to be both energetic and harmonically strong. All the material – In My Room, Roller Coaster, Shining Star, Hope – was recent but they did reach back to the 40s for The Andrews Sisters big hit The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy From Company B, which did dally on the edge of jazz.
Next on the stand came Etcetera, sub-headed The Civil Service Choir. I can’t offhand think of any outfit that takes a full five minutes to climb onto the stand but then not too many groups weigh in at 100 members even. They were backed not only by Chris Ingram’s trio but also by Alexander Bone on alto sax. With Stephen Hall on the podium they sailed through Bob Chilcott’s innovative A Little Jazz Mass in several evocative movements, following with three poems arranged by Bob Todd and reminiscent of the “poetry and jazz” fad in 1960s San Francisco. They closed their set with Amazing Grace and then it was intermission.
It was clear from the reception they received that it was The Swingles the audience had primarily come to see and they more than justified their top-of-the-bill status. Down to seven from the original eight they deserve to be name-checked and I’m happy to oblige, ladies first – Federika Basile, Imogen Parry, Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson, Oliver Griffiths, Jon Smith, Kevin Fox, and Edward Randell. As eclectic programmes go this wanted some beating, ranging as it did from folk songs from Bulgaria and Afghanistan to Bach, Billie Holiday (Don’t Explain), Michel Legrand (What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life), Sinatra (In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning) and Ray Charles (Hallelujah, I Love Her So).
As I said at the top of the piece it might not be exactly what it says on the tin but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat it – and enjoy it.
The Voices Of Jazz: VoCollective; Etcetera; The Swingles. St John’s Smith Square, London, SW1P 3HA, 23 November 2019 as part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival