Joy Ellis at The Vortex, London

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Pianist, songwriter and vocalist Joy Ellis, having gained several plaudits with her debut album, has now put together a second album. She launched it on this foul December night at The Vortex Jazz Bar in Dalston. She supplemented her core trio – Henrik Jensen, bass, Artie Zaitz, guitar, Adam Ozmianski, drums – with Miguel Gorodi, trumpet and flugelhorn, Alice Leggett, alto sax and Binker Golding, tenor sax.

The opener, Pollyanna, with just the trio, established a template for what was to follow, with contributions from the three guests in various combinations. After stating the melody Artie weighed in with a well-judged solo, giving way to Joy, who moved aside for some tasty stickery from Adam. At one and the same time this opening number laid before us both the strengths and the weaknesses of the group. The strengths were the tight ensemble playing plus the sure-footed solos whilst the principal weakness was the lacklustre quality of the lyrics, a problem throughout., so much so that at intermission a man on the next table said to his partner that he would wait in the car and meet her there after the second set. That allows me to say that the tiny venue, when full, as it was on Saturday, resembles nothing so much as a carriage on the Northern Line in the heart of the rush-hour.

The second number, Castless, was similar to the first albeit they made do with just two solo spots, guitar and piano, with honours divided evenly. For The Jazzman they wheeled out Miguel Gorodi on flugelhorn and as the number progressed it was becoming possible to see what the man in the interval was getting at; as an ensemble, once Joy had laid a lyric on us, the band were really cooking, not least Joy herself, who is a great pianist but things tend to drag with every succeeding lyric. With This House the group was joined by Alice Leggett on alto, a notably strong blower as she demonstrated when the final guest, Binker Golding, added his tenor to the ensemble on Family Tree, a song that had a particular significance for Joy. Trees On The River led us into the interval in real rousing style and there were smiles all around as the lights came up to illuminate the bar.

Having heard at intermission the opinion of the man who voted with his feet – and so far as I could tell he was the only person who did so – I paid particular attention to the words of the five titles – Dwell, One Hundred Years, Ellington Said, Mick Cody Says Hello, Here In The Quiet – that comprised the second set and whilst they did tend to run the gamut from bland to banal they were well on this side of unendurable and the only reason I can think of for their attracting such a negative reaction is that Joy’s keyboard skills are so outstanding that anything that tends to impair them is seen as a villain.

In sum this was a very entertaining evening featuring a gifted septet at the top of their game. 

Joy Ellis, The Vortex Jazz Bar, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, N16 SAZ, 14 December 2019