Last night Nicola Conte told a sell-out house at Ronnie Scott's that he (and his combo) were hoping to provide us with more than "just entertainment". He wanted to make the audience feel something. It was an interesting introduction and 90 minutes later, it was safe to say that he had achieved his goal.
I came to know his music only recently and have been won over by his eclectic mix of reworked 1950's and 1960's jazz classics, Brazilian tunes, the bossa-nova feel to much of his work and quirky numbers such as Fuoco Fatuo. I have also admired his use of female vocalists and his version of the standard Charade featuring Berlin based Lisa Bassenge is constantly on my i-pod at the moment. Last night was a little different as the team worked their way through a a number of songs from his Love and Revolution album of 2011.
There were a lot of people on the stage. As well as Nicola on guitar, we were treated to the fabulous piano playing of Pietro Lusso, Sardinian Francesco Lento - who was outstanding on trumpet, Helsinki native Teppo Makynen on drums, Gaetano Partilipo on saxophone and Paolo Benedettini on double bass. Five Italians and one Finn, all in tailored dark grey suites and ties - the epitome of European jazz cool. Makynen's drumming was accompanied by the most surprising facial expressions - groans, grins and grimaces whilst Conte maintained an almost detached concentration. After the opening two numbers, the musicians were joined on stage by vocalist Bridgette Amofah.
Although a little drowned by the band at times, Ms. Amofah gave an excellent performance in front of the most discerning jazz audience in London. She particularly shone on Max Roach's Freedom Day, Love From the Sun (once recorded by the great Norman Connors) and Conte's own composition, Love and Revolution. Freedom Day was an outstanding number not just for the excellent vocal, but also for the ripping, soaring, shrieking sax and trumpet duet at the beginning between Partilipo and Lento. Terrific. They also stole the show during the closing number Love and Revolution with a lengthy workout before Ms Amofah came back in to close things down. It was an appropriate choice of songs to end a set that had begun with Mr Conte's reference to the importance of music in the black liberation movement in the 1950's and 1960's setting the scene for the evening's programme.
I had been expecting a run through of his better known and more popular tracks, but his choice of a slightly more left-field programme was inspired. It is the second Ronnie Scott's gig in the last few months where performers have chosen to demonstrate a wider, less well known repertoire with enormous success - I am thinking of the Jean and Doug Carne set in June last year. A great concert to begin the new year - and there's lots more to come.
Oh, and here's a little treat to be going on with...