Nicola Conte returned to Ronnie Scott's last night for the first of four concerts spread over two evenings. As ever, it was a show to remember with extremely polished performances from all concerned but the show was absolutely stolen by sax player Magnus Lindgren and female vocalist Melanie Charles who not only shone in their own right but treated us to a musical conversation between voice, sax and flute.
The first set is always a little shorter at Ronnie Scott's to ensure the second house gets started on time and cognisant of that, Conte led his musicians through a series of songs taken mostly from his two most recent albums Love and Revolution and Free Souls as well as a few other older number. The music flowed with very little chat from the stage and the audience liked that just fine. Opening with the instrumental number All Praise To Allah from Love and Revolution before Ms Charles took the stage to Spirit of Nature from the more recent recording (which features her voice). We were then taken on a musical journey through jazz, soul and African influenced tracks including the joyous We Get Our Love From The Sun, Black Spirits, Shades of Joy, Soul Revelation and a riotous psychedelic soul version of the spiritual song, Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child first recorded by Paul Robeson in the 1930's.
Exquisitely elegant, Haitian born New York resident Ms Charles is a very talented young woman. In patterned dress and green shoes she treated us to a little of her skills on the flute, harmonising with Lindgren. But most of all this girl can sing and she gave us a hint of her scat skills on Hoagey Carmichael's Baltimore Oriole and We Get Our Love From the Sun. It would have been good to see a little more of that - but she's going to be around for a long time. Baltimore Oriole was given a good long workout with some great piano and flute and of course a soaring vocal. I have always loved Lorez Alexandria's 1957 and 1963 versions of this song but Nicola and the crew gave her a run for her money last night.
Conte is an egalitarian leader allowing his musicians to showcase their talents, not dominating, but very definitely holding the whole thing together on guitar and being the musical genius behind the ultra sophisticated Nicola Conte sound. The current combo is completed by three excellent Italian musicians, long time member Pietro Lussu on piano, rising star Luca Alemanno on bass and Marco Valeri on drums. Italy has become a real force in modern jazz with not only Conte but also Gaetano Partipilo ( a former member of Conte's combo), Gerardo Frisina (Movement surely being one of the best jazz albums of 2014) and of course gravel voiced vocalist Mario Biondi. In fact there was a bit of an Italian thing going on last night at Ronnie Scott's as Georgia Mancio opened the show and included Bruno Martino's 1960 composition Estate in her set.
My first concert at Ronnie Scott's for 2015. A great start.