Jo Harrop Quintet at Chichester Jazz Club

Raised on Simone, Holiday and Franklin, the Durham-born singer led her quintet in a typically varied set that ended with a standing ovation

Jo Harrop with her quintet at Chichester Jazz Club in March 2024. L-R: George Double, Harrop, Paul Edis, Harry Greene, John Williamson. Photo by Robin Hollister

The beer mats were a touch out of date, celebrating as they did “25 Years Of Live Jazz 1991–2016”. But there can be no doubt that Chichester Jazz Club, which at the beginning of March hosted the excellent Jo Harrop Quintet, continues to demonstrate why it can be justly proud of its achievements.

Situated in a generous, nightclub-styled space in the Pallant Suite – a stone’s throw from the renowned Pallant House Gallery in the historic heart of the cathedral city – the club runs a consistently striking monthly programme. Recent gigs have featured, e.g., Alan Barnes, Roger Beaujolais, Anita Wardell, Scott Hamilton, Hanna Horton and Tony Kofi, Alex Clarke, Dave O’ Higgins and Rob Luft.

Harrop’s concert was right up there. A packed house, as keenly attentive as it was warmly appreciative, was treated to two sets of absolute knock-out quality from the exquisitely focused yet fluid and floating singer and her finely attuned colleagues, Paul Edis (p), Harry Greene (ts, elg), John Williamson (b) and George Double (d).

Reviewing Harrop in 2021, Dave Gelly gave a glowing endorsement of her work, underlining her stylistic range. An organic command of breath and dynamics, melisma and pitch, diction and intonation, diversely swinging accents and rhythm is central to the multivalent quality of this vocalist’s assured yet adventurous art. And whatever Harrop chooses to sing – ballads, blues or swingers, for example – her overall lucidity and improvisational flair are always set in service of (rather than dominating) the material.

And then there is that crucial “something else” which marks some out as truly special: soul. Small wonder that Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin were key early elective affinities or that, for all her nuanced navigation of harmony and The Great American Songbook, Harrop continues (as she told me after the show) “to really, really love the blues”.

Fans of such recent distinctive albums from Harrop as Weathering The StormThe Heart Wants and When Winter Turns To Spring will not be surprised to hear that her Chichester performance featured a compelling range of (integrated) material – at times delivered in intimate duet with Edis or Greene, but mostly kicked along or caressed by the full group. Each number, whether a standard or original, was introduced and given appropriate context by Harrop, whose relaxed and natural command of stagecraft brought a warm and most welcome dimension to the proceedings.

No matter what the tempo, Williamson and Double were deep in the pocket, while the harmonically adroit Edis and Greene offered all manner of rhythmic and melodic delight. A new name to me, Greene shone as (mostly) a Mobley and Gordon man on tenor and both a chordal poet and exhilarating blues-burner on guitar.

Those who have relished Edis’s contributions to When Winter Turns To Spring – or who have immersed themselves in his most thoughtful (and, in part, swinging) solo album The Still Point Of The Turning World – will know what a special sensibility he has. One minute here Edis was smoking on a (vocal-less) group treatment of the Gillespie / Rollins / Stitt classic On The Sunny Side Of The Street; the next, he was laying down some pianissimo, gamelan-like prepared piano textures to introduce Harrop’s haunting, achingly beautiful reading of If Ever I Would Leave You, from Camelot.

Further special delights included a suitably poised and tender take on the Burns / Herman classic Early Autumn as well as some swinging, building and bubbling grooves on You’d Be So Easy To Love, What A Little Moonlight Can Do and Charade. And, most happily, there was many a beautifully crafted and emotionally charged Harrop original.

Taken chiefly from the aforementioned Heart and Winter Turns To Spring albums, they included the exuberant Red Mary Janes And A Brand New Hat and the deeply reflective I Think You’d Better Go, as well as Short Story, Only Spring Will Decide and a poignant meditation on Soho life in the late, late (or rather, all-too-early) hours.

In his liner note for Weathering The Storm Jonathan Wingate observes of Harrop that she is able to “effortlessly blur the lines between jazz and folk”. If Harrop doesn’t sound much like June Tabor, that other bold crosser of lines and distinctions, it seems to me that these two great artists have in common the most crucial thing of all: the spirit of an open-hearted and unvarnished integrity.

The enthralled house just did not want the evening to end. A baying standing ovation led to a timeless gem of an encore, as Harrop and her splendid cohorts offered an extensive medium-up take on Billie Holiday’s standout Fine And Mellow. 

Who could possibly ask for anything more?!

Jo Harrop Quintet at Chichester Jazz Club in the Pallant Suite on Friday 1 March 2024