sun 14/07/2024

Mads Mathias, Pizza Express Jazz Club - honeyed yet precise | reviews, news & interviews

Mads Mathias, Pizza Express Jazz Club - honeyed yet precise

Mads Mathias, Pizza Express Jazz Club - honeyed yet precise

Danish jazz singer belies romantic appearance with tight and complex performance

Mads Mathias: velvet authenticityCat Munro

Caressing the microphone, and gazing into the audience with winsome, soulful sincerity, tousled auburn locks glistening in the stage light, Mads Mathias looks like nothing so much as Ed Sheeran’s more handsome older brother.

His voice has the softest of rasps, like being rubbed gently with velvet, and he has his saxophone on hand, as if threatening to shimmer phrases of Sanborn smooth into the night.

To judge purely by appearances Mathias seemed an incongruous choice for one of London’s most esteemed jazz venues. And yet, while seemingly at home in every stereotype of the romantic singer, Mathias offers something authentic and unexpected. Yes, the voice is honeyed, but it’s also a very precise instrument, very carefully integrated into subtle and balanced compositions. His diction and phrasing are excellent, and serve the songs, mostly his own compositions, very well. He can scat slickly, and whistle, too.

The lyrics are much sharper than they have any right to be. Listen carefully, and some of the couplets zing. “If you were a flower, I would be the dew,” he sings on “Free Falling”. Even when he seems to be flirting with cliché, as on one of the new songs, “Hen-Pecked Man”, he rescues himself with self-aware, self-deprecating irony. The hen-pecked man, who could, in less skilful hands, become tediously self-pitying, rhymes with “Tarzan” in a lovely moment of sardonic deflation. Mathias gave revealing explanations of the origins of his songs, which are – unusually for jazz – simply autobiographical. There’s a thoughtful literary craft in Mathias’ self-presentation, in which the accuracy and emotional openness of both voice and lyric complement one another.

His band, likewise, gives understated but deft, highly skilled support. Drummer James Maddren swings vigorously using mostly the brushes, exerting iron control on the rhythm, yet rarely rising above mezzo-piano. Bassist Morten Ankarfeldt was effortlessly precise and lyrical, while pianist Peter Rosendal (who also played flugelhorn) was perhaps a little too gentle, but overall, it was a superb ensemble performance.

Mathias has a British following, and is currently still hot from a knockout performance at last month’s “Swing No End” Prom, but his international career began quite recently after he was spotted, in an old-fashioned sense, performing at another musician’s wedding, by expert jazz promoter Sue Edwards. Mathias can fill a hall and wow a big crowd, as he showed at the Proms, but on the basis of this show, his greatest strength is in a room small enough for the audience to appreciate his intimacy. He’s great with an audience, too. Once he’s had time to show more people what he can do, I’d expect to see him tour the UK much more regularly.

For fans of the jazz song, Mathias’ craft is a huge breath of fresh air. Yes, his subject matter is conventionally romantic fare, but it’s all closely observed, seemingly from real life, in a way that few singers, in this tradition, do so well. He has the frankness and directness of a pop singer, unafraid to open their heart, and speak as they find. In a genre where the layers of tradition sometimes lie too thick, being like Ed Sheeran is a compliment.


In a genre where the layers of tradition sometimes lie too thick, being like Ed Sheeran is a compliment


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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