Wendy Kirkland Sextet: Latin Lowdown Live

Pianist and singer expands her lockdown duos into sextet format, creating room for guest star Roger Beaujolais on vibraphone


Wendy Kirkland’s third album confirms necessity as the proverbial mother of invention and the solitude of lockdown as its chivvying partner. Pianist-singer Kirkland and her guitarist husband Pat Sprakes attracted almost a million viewers to the 86 short duo sessions of Latin jazz recorded at their home and streamed to a world starved of live music.

Creativity born of resilience led to the Kirkland sextet – including guest vibraphonist Roger Beaujolais – embarking on an Arts Council funded tour in 2021 that ended with the concert recorded here. It features 10 charts from the plethora explored by Kirkland and Sprakes at home.

Kirkland is an exponent of Latin jazz and a pianist and vocalist in the Eliane Elias-Diana Krall mode. And not just them and their trio formats. The core of Latin jazz is its sheer joy, and Kirkland comes at it from all quarters to display as singer the featherlight charm of His Smile and Sambolero (sung in Portuguese), the sultry relaxation of Who Loves You, and the unison scatting with herself then Sprakes in Blues For Cos, a track notable for its coda in which drummer Steve Wyndham, an on-the-nail timekeeper, and percussionist Jon Richmond free themselves from rhythm duties to loosen up.

Afro beats threaten monotony but are open to internal movement, as bassist Wayne Matthews, often playing across the strict metre, demonstrates. Also, bash-and-shake percussion in a Latin band is a resource; it has the equipment and variable motor energy to feature even more prominently than Richmond does late on in the funky Papa Gato.

Beaujolais, ever tuned to the textural properties of his instrument in these arrangements and a consummate improviser, supplies the opening Joe Beam. Note here how Kirkland the pianist brings the vibesman back at 4.00 for a spot of trading. Sprakes wrote Fairway Blues and Suburban Castaway and is everywhere a model of elegance and restraint and at home with the delicate textures of El Mar and its mildly accelerating passion.

Lockdown offered few positives but this was a generous one in all senses.

Joe Beam; His Smile; Fairway Blues; Sambolero; Blues For Cos; Samba Do Soho; El Mar; Who Loves You; Suburban Castaway; Papa Gato (63.24)
Kirkland (p, v); Pat Sprakes (g); Roger Beaujolais (vib); Wayne Matthews (b); Steve Wyndham (d); Jon Richmond (pc). Chesterfield, 28 October 2021.
Blue Quaver Records BQ021