Tuesday 15th March the Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton played host to Southampton Jazz Club and their guests Issie Barratt and her band Interchange. I have not been to Turner Sims in quite some time, so it was good to be back at this venue along with my wife who was interested in hearing what an all-female big band sounded like live.
The band played all the tracks from their 2019 album release, Donna’s Secret, plus one track, ‘To the Power of Ten’, that is to appear on a follow-up album. All the numbers heard were commissioned by Issie Barratt and written by women with Karen Street’s ‘Still Here’ getting the evening’s event underway.
Many of the pieces played came across to me as having been written in the classical music suite style, three movements under one title. As such each tune had time and space to develop and unfold its story, something I very much appreciated and enjoyed. The music was emotive, thought provoking, exceptionally well-played and fascinating in the way that duos or trios from within the band broke out to emphasize a particular mood be it light or dark.
The standout pieces for me were ‘Still Here’, ‘Donna’s Secret’, ‘Palmyra’, and ‘Spontaneous Symmetry’. The story telling in the opening number was superb and helped by knowing the back story prior to the number being played (it is the story of Karen’s mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s but has fleeting and unexpected windows of clarity where she dances and shows that she is ‘Still Here’. The blending of Immy Churchill’s vocals and Alex Ridout on trumpet was superb and at times indistinguishable from each other.
‘Donna’s Secret’, by Brigitte Beraha, plays with language and how a book’s translation can lead the reader to misunderstand the author’s intent. The two vocalists on this number, Immy Churchill and Charlie Pyne, were very good with one singing in English an the other in French. Both were looking and sounding like they were enjoying themselves which, of course, transfers to the audience who responded well with their applause at the end of the piece.
‘Palmyra’ draws on cellist Shirley Smart’s ten years living in Jerusalem and the music reflected this very well. The influences of the music from that region could be clearly heard and blended seamlessly with the jazz style of the piece. Shirley’s own playing on the cello highlighted just how well this instrument can sound in a jazz setting, particularly when the musicians around you bring to life the vibrancy of the region which inspired the music.
Tori Freestone’s ‘Spontaneous Symmetry’ was, at times, challenging; it was also beautiful and spontaneous. The free-jazz section, where pianist Zoe Rahman played off Alyson Cawley’s wonderful, improvised sax playing, showed just how well free-improv can work within a written structure without detracting from the feel of the piece as a whole.
This was a big night for Southampton Jazz Club and needed a big band to help make it work – and work it did! This was a glorious feast of superlative laden jazz music and ‘To the Power of Ten’, give us a taster of how more there is to come from Issie Barratt’s Interchange. On the way back to the car my wife commented on how “women play jazz very differently to men” and, as an example, highlighted how much she had enjoyed the drumming of Caroline Boaden and how she felt that Caroline played with an empathy she had not heard in male drummers – that conversation carried on for some time.
Musicians: Issie Barratt – baritone saxophone, Artistic Director; Zoe Rahman – piano; Immy Churchill – voice; Alexandra Ridout – trumpet; Helena Kay – alto saxophone; Rosie Turton – trombone; Alyson Cawley – tenor saxophone; Shirley Smart – cello; Charlie Pyne – bass; Caroline Boaden – drums.