Zoë Schwarz Blue Commotion: Regent Centre, Christchurch. Friday 5th June, 2015
What a singer! What a band! At their best Zoë Schwarz Blue Commotion are right up there with the giants of jazz and blues. Smooth and mellow, raw and raunchy, they can seamlessly switch gear in the blink of an eye.
But there’s a problem. With an act that incorporates elements of not only jazz and blues but soul, pop, rock and even a dash of rap there are moments when the magic gets lost in the diversity.
This is possibly a slightly unfair observation as their concert at the Regent Centre was a promo launch for their new live album I’ll Be Yours Tonight. In other words a showcase which found the band taking the opportunity to display their prowess as a duo, a four piece, five piece and seven piece. At least that was the idea.
Due to the Friday evening traffic nightmare that has become de rigueur for anyone travelling on the M3, half of the two man horn section, ie trumpet player Andy Urquhart, remained a no-show until the last third of the two hour concert.
With faultless musicianship and based around the core of vocalist Zoë Schwarz and guitarist Rob Koral, the band featured fine playing from Peter Whittaker on Hammond organ and drummer Paul Robinson. Irrepressible harmonica player Si Genaro completed the five piece line-up in inimitable style. Meanwhile the aforementioned Andy Urquhart and sax player Ian Ellis boosted the band to the full seven piece who played on the original I’ll Be Yours Tonight recording. It was an impressive show incorporating most of the new album plus a few old favourites thrown in for good measure.
Although the band’s original material is of the highest quality, stand-out tracks for me were covers of two blues classics - Lowell Fulson’s Sinner’s Prayer and Willie Dixon’s I Can’t Quit You Baby. There was also a wonderful nod to the great Billie Holiday - a prime influence on the young Zoë Schwarz who revealed from the stage that as a schoolgirl she had only sung church music. Lady Day showed her the way from Ave Maria to the bluesy side of the tracks. Hallelujah! Zoë’s roots have clearly paid dividends with stunning numbers like Beatitudes proving that the Devil really doesn’t have all the best songs
I like this band a lot but it troubles me that they seem undecided about exactly what they want to be. Visually they present a confusing mixture of messages too. From a heads-down, grounded presentation that works perfectly well to a whole load of quite, to me anyway, unnecessary high-jinks. At one time I thought Zoë and the hyperactive Mr Genaro were on the verge of channeling Wilson, Keppel and Betty. There was certainly a bizarre mix of moves that appeared to combine three parts shimmy and shake to two parts Ministry of Silly Walks. I’m afraid it added nothing to the already fantastic music and vocals.