On Christmas Eve 2021, Wendy Kirkland released Latin Lowdown Live recorded live at the Chesterfield Jazz Club in the November of the same year. During lockdown Wendy and Pat released some eighty-six pieces of Brazilian or Afro-Cuban style music and posted them on Facebook. This album is a representation of that body of work that is still available to view on YouTube.
Vibraphonist Roger Beaujolais wrote the opening number, ‘Joe Beam’, which turns out to be an up-tempo ensemble piece with plenty going on but not overplayed or overproduced. The blend of vibes and piano works well, as does the meld of bass guitar and drums with Pat Sprakes weaving his own guitar sound in and around the melody: this is a good opening number and sets the scene well for what is to come. The instantly recognizable Till Bonner’s ‘His Smile’ – with lyrics from Robin Meloy Goldsby – has Wendy Kirkland leading on piano and vocals in her own unique style. The support from the band her around her is pitched at the right level and does nothing to detract from Wendy’s delivery – particularly the playing of Roger Beaujolais’ on vibes and Pat Sprakes on guitar.
Pat Sprakes wrote ‘Fairway Blues’ and it is, for me, one of the standout tracks on the album(see video at the ned of this review). The tune has a relaxed feel about it with its steady, light beat from drummer Steve Wyndham and unhurried vibe from Roger Beaujolais. Pat’s guitar solo gives the tune its distinctive blues feel with Wendy’s piano providing a solid bedrock off which the rest of the band can play knowing that the tune’s motif will always be there.
‘Sambolero’ has Wendy showing off her vocal ability in Portuguese (?). Another good guitar solo from husband Pat before handing the solo spot over to vibes player Roger Beaujolais. Steve Wyndham keeps the beat ticking over nicely with support from Wayne Matthews on bass. ‘Blues For Cos’ has a strong, well-played bass line, with a more percussive piano styling from Wendy. The vibes are also a touch punchier than has been heard so far. This is another good example of solid ensemble playing from a band who have been together for some time.
Paulo Jobim’s ‘Samba do Soho’ is a song that has been around for some time, so it is always interesting to hear how it is interpreted by others. The tune begins with short sharp notes at the piano before mellowing out when Wendy’s vocals come into play. The bass line underpins this number particularly when supporting the guitar solo. Wendy’s piano has that mix of percussive and lyrical playing that gives the tune a great textural sound with a strong, sharp finish. ‘El Mar’ starts in a classical Spanish guitar style with another nicely played bass line, and accompanying Latin percussion from Jon Richmond. The sound then fills out with the piano and vibes adding their colour to the tune. This is one of those tunes that gets better with each subsequent listening – I really like the way the tune ebbs and flows and the use of dynamic variations.
‘Who Loves You’ has Wendy back on vocal duty on this slower tempo number. The Latin percussion and drums, along with the vibes provide a good background over which Wendy sings and plays. This is a tune with a nice melody that the band play well but, in my opinion, is let down by weak lyrics that sound a touch dated in their sentiment (or maybe I’m just not the soft romantic I once was). ‘Suburban Castaway’ is another Pat Sprakes composition; another very good Pat Sprakes composition. This tune has a strong motif that is never too far away but fails to become unimaginative and that is down to the way that Pat plays off the theme. As with other numbers on this album it is the strength of the support from the other players that allows the lead instrumentalist and melody to shine.
‘Papa Gato’ is the final track on Latin Lowdown Live which Wendy opens with the tunes central theme. This is the number that was pipped by ‘Fairway Blues’ for standout track. ‘Papa Gato’ is full of energy driven by the strength of Wendy’s piano playing, a pulsating rhythm picked out by the bass, percussion and drums rounded out by guitar and vibes of Pat and Roger respectively. This is a great number on which to bring the set, and album, to an end and it will feature on February 11ths edition of ‘Sounds Like Jazz’.
This is not the first album from Wendy Kirkland that I have reviewed, and I have to be honest and state that I am a fan of hers and her band. I have had the pleasure of meeting and speaking to Wendy and her passion for the music she plays is palpable and I am not the only one to have recognized this:
She’s a jazz pianist and she’s a jazz singer, and does both with feeling and flair.” Nigel Jarrett, Jazz Journal
Clever concept, delivered with humour, insight and an obvious knowledge and love of the genre” Soul and Jazz and Funk
This album grew from a need to keep playing, and entertaining, during the lockdown and I for one am glad that the need was there because Wendy has, again, produced the goods and deserves all the plaudits and recognition that should, in my opinion, come her way.
Musicians: Wendy Kirkland – piano and voice; Pat Sprakes – guitar; Roger Beaujolais – vibraphone; Wayne Matthews – bass guitar; Steve Wyndham – drums; Jon Richmond – Latin percussion.
Tracklist: 1. Joe Beam. 2. His Smile. 3. Fairway Blues. 5. Blues Fr Cos. 6. Samba do Soho. 7. El Mar. 8. Who Loves You. 8. Suburban Castaway. 10. Papa Gato.