tue 09/08/2022

Jacqui Dankworth, 606 Club | reviews, news & interviews

Jacqui Dankworth, 606 Club

Jacqui Dankworth, 606 Club

Despite some uneven writing, Dankworth's latest album is ambitious and encyclopaedic, packing a raw emotional punch

Jacqui Dankworth: emotional charismaJohn Kentish

Jazz singer Jacqui Dankworth’s fifth album Live to Love is, on the face of it, an unlikely forum for appreciation of quantum physics or the heroic plight of Pakistani campaigner Malala Yousafzai. This new release, launched at the 606 Club, contains both, but not because she has morphed into a fearsome amalgam of Tom Lehrer and Billy Bragg.

Dankworth unified her eclectic subject matter by demonstrating a multifarious, magnificent facility for empathy.

Vocal quality and delivery were excellent. Dankworth radiated an irresistible, sensuous warmth, each word a little boat on her river of honey and hurt, passion and pain. The live experience was warmer than the slightly over-scrubbed recording, and in the intimate setting of the 606, her gentle shimmy and generous eye contact caused at least the male members of the audience to loosen their collars and settle their quivering wine glasses more firmly on the table.

The songs, a mixture of originals and adaptations, all shared this compelling empathetic quality. "Malala" didn't tell us anything new, but succeeded as an honest and touching tribute to a very brave young woman. Even "Tomorrow’s World", with its discussion of black holes, quarks and string theory, was above all a homage to Jacqui’s father John Dankworth, who wrote the theme tune for the TV series of the same name. (She admitted knowing little of the physics.) Most memorable, though, were the wistfully melodic "I Took Your Hand", by Enrico Pieranunzi, with lyrics by Lorraine Feather, and the rhythmically captivating ‘"Palladium", a Wayne Shorter tune, in which a story about the disintegration of a lover’s memory was rendered in wittily syncopated synthesiser and soprano sax.  

In general, the borrowed songs were more successful than the originals. While the title track, "Live to Love", had a certain idiomatic impact, the lyrics of "We Do Need Love" - for example "stop your moaning and groaning/ life goes on" - felt over-familiar, especially in the company of writers like Lorraine Feather.

The musical arrangements were skilful, above all the use of Rob Barron’s trippy, spacey synth, conveying the album’s prevalent sense of delirium. There was some good jazz, too - Barron, Geoff Gascoyne on bass (guitar and double), and Chris Allard on guitar all have tidy solos - though the fluid intensity of the voice was much the dominant sound. Supporting Dankworth is neither the time nor the place to release your inner Ornette Coleman.  

The album enjoys the extra texture of the Brodsky String Quartet, who are not on the live tour, supporting three tracks, but that does not make up for the visceral potency of seeing Dankworth live. She combined technical control with emotional immediacy to an unusual degree. Her live appearances have been rare, but with a long UK tour just started, there's never been a better opportunity. Live to Love, despite some unevenness, sums up her charismatic appeal.

Her gentle shimmy and generous eye contact caused at least the male members of the audience to loosen their collars and settle their quivering wine glasses more firmly on the table


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters