Sunday 29 July 2012

The Ben Uri Gallery - see the collection at home

Regular readers will know that I am a devotee of the Ben Uri Gallery, the London Jewish Museum of Art, currently housed in Boundary Road, Swiss Cottage. I have written about the excellent current Dodo Burgner exhibition as well as the equally impressive Josef Herman exhibition from earlier this year.

The Ben Uri has a wonderful collection of over 1,300 pieces, but the severely cramped space in the gallery means that only a very small number of them can be displayed at any one time. The gallery has been looking for a new, more centrally located and larger home for some time. The search continues, but in the meantime, thanks to the new look website, you can browse through some of the collection's highlights without leaving home!

The new website has a search facility that allows searching by artist's name, leading browsers to a list of holdings by each artist and also to an image of the works listed. This is still work in progress, but its already possible to view about one third of the Ben Uri collection in this way. In addition to this, the website now features a regularly changing slideshow of 32 works from the collection and this is very prominent on the home page.

I spent some time browsing through this large sample from this unique collection, and although a large number of works are still to be included, I was already able to enjoy wide looking at the work of several of my favourite artists.  This includes examples of Whitechapel boy Mark Gertler's work (my favourite - The Rabbi and Rebbetzin from 1914) and good representation of Israeli artists including Moshe Castel (my favourite - Father and Son from 1928 - and by the way there is an excellent museum of his work in Maale Adumim near Jerusalem - well worth a visit), Nahum Gutman (my favourite - Safed) and more contemporary photographic work from Natan Dvir (The Shtetl is Burning, 1972).

The Ben Uri has featured a number of refugee artists in recent years and these too are well represented on the new website, including Martin Bloch (the lovely House in Varengeville Normandy from 1939) and Yankel Adler (Ein Jude from 1926). Each entry gives details of the medium, dimensions, date where known and inscription. Not only is this  a great way of making the collection more widely available, but its also a great tool for art historians, researchers and people who just happen to like Jewish art (or even just art!).

The site also gives details of exhibitions, past, present and future - including a range of images from the current Dodo Burgner show, the gallery's education programme and other useful information. I understand that there are to be further improvements to the site, including additional ways of searching the collection as well as plans to add more information about the gallery's previous exhibitions. Again, good news for researchers and art lovers generally.

The Ben Uri collection is rich, diverse and constantly being developed. Its most recent acquisition is Chaim Soutine's, La Soubrette or the Waiting Maid, purchased with Heritage Lottery Fund monies and grants and donations from other sources including the Victoria and Albert Museum. There are plans to exhibit the painting very soon, so check the new website for details!

Saturday 28 July 2012

More from Bosnia-Herzegovina

I have already written about some of my favourite parts of Sarajevo - the art nouveau architecture, the coffee, the cakes...but I must also mention a couple of other things. Regular readers will know that in addition to coffee and cake, I have a passion for books and book shops. Sarajevo has many good quality book shops and there is clearly a burgeoning publishing industry here with many well produced local titles. Several book shops carry at least some titles in English but my favourite has to be Sahinpasic, located near to the Europa Hotel where I picked up a couple of treasures - Sarajevo Rose, subtitled a Balkan Jewish Notebook and Forgotten Sarajevo - a truly wonderful collection of old photographs of the city, many retouched with colour. Fantastic. Incidentally, the rebuilt Hotel Europa is worth a visit to sample the above average priced, but very good cakes in their Vienna Cafe.

Speaking of books, I have almost finished reading the Nobel prize winner Ivo Andric's The Bridge Over the Drina which follows the history of the bridge at Visegrad, built during the Ottoman period and its relationship with the city and its inhabitants over the next several hundred years up to the tragic events of 1914. The story is interesting, tracing the changing relationships between the city's different ethnic groups, the ongoing struggle for independence from the Turks and then from the Austrians and also the day to day lives, loves and struggles of Visegrad's citizens. Andric was born in Travnik of Croatian parents, served in the pre-war government and then again under Tito. The book is controversial in some quarters with what is described as an anti-Muslim/ Turkish stance, but I don't think it is as clear as that, with several Muslim characters being drawn sympathetically. Read it and make your own mind up.

I must also mention my hotel - Pansion Kandilj, a small, cosy, family-run hotel just a few minutes walk from the Latinska Bridge and the old city. The Kandilj (meaning candle) is very comfortable, has free wi-fi (and PC access if you don't have your laptop with you), and provides a nice breakfast with all the usual things plus omelettes to order! But, more important than this, the staff are extremely helpful, friendly and knowledgeable and can arrange tours and drivers to other parts of the country. The common areas are set out and decorated in Ottoman style and there is a nice small terrace area for evening relaxation. Good price too.

Sarajevo is a fairly small city so its easy to see a lot of it in a short time. One of the good things about this, is that it means you can squeeze a lot into a short trip and some of the country's most interesting sites are within a couple of hours drive of the city. Having agreed a very reasonable price with one of the staff from the Pansion Kandilj, we visited Mostar and Blagaj, two of Herzegovina's most beautiful locations.

The drive from Sarajevo to Mostar took about two hours - some of it on the very small amount of motorway the country has, but almost all of it through stunning scenery. This country is extremely green and mountainous, still has forests and it is still possible to see bears, wolves and other wild animals. I didn't see any on this drive, but when stopping to take some road side photographs, it was possible to hear wild pigs in the forest.

Mostar was our first stop and arriving on the Bosnian side of the city, we made straight for the famous bridge. The bridge at Mostar stood for more than 400 years and was a symbolic link between the two halves of this small and ancient city. Destroyed during the war in the 1990's, the bridge has been completely restored, again attracts many visitors and dominates the centre of the city, just begging to be photographed and admired. The bridge is faithfully restored to the original design of Ottoman architect, Hajrudin, a pupil of the famous Hodja Mimar Sinan who designed many of Istanbul's best loved buildings.

The Mostar Diving Club has its home on the bridge and during peak tourist periods, young divers can be seen dropping the 21 metres from the high point of the bridge into the summer water level of the shallow River Neretva below. They don't do it just for fun though. Each dive is a performance which begins with the diver climbing over the railings at the peak of the bridge and teasing the tourists about jumping. One of his colleagues takes a hat around to collect money to encourage the diver, who gradually prepares for the jump  - removing the t-shirt, then the shorts, then hanging from the railings, perhaps climbing back on to the bridge and feigning disinterest until enough money is in the hat. Then very quickly, the diver is back over the railings, composing himself, bends his knees and then he's gone to the gasps of the crowd and (at least on the two dives I saw) quickly resurfaces down below the bridge.

The narrow street on the other side of the bridge is filled with small tourist shops selling postcards, guide books, home made jewellery, a variety of trinkets and some interesting goodies such as hand made herbal soaps - I bought some for my mum! This side of the river also has a number of small cafes including the high level Terrace Cafe which has great views of the bridge, the streets below and the many tourists that have began to pour back into Mostar. There are also some interesting roof top views here and a great view of an old building gradually being overtaken by vegetation! The Terrace Cafe has a slightly relaxed attitude to service, but then it was 40 degrees on the day of our visit and the coffee and cherry cake were very good once they arrived.

Strolling through Mostar, walking through the main tourist area, there are a number of interesting sites, including the Koski Mehmed Pasha mosque built in 1617, again with great views of the bridge and the river and a small bazaar in the grounds of the building. A little further along comes the Kara Ozbegova mosque which has a very cooling and beautiful external lobby, which afforded us a little shelter as we felt the first drops of rain during our stay in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is one of the most important Islamic monuments in the country and was completed in 1557 to the design of the great Sinan. Badly damaged during the 1990's war, serious restoration work is now under way.

However, for me, the star of the show is the 17th century Biscevica House, located a few steps away from the main drag. For a couple of marks admission fee, you can visit the first floor divanhan (conversation room) preserved in Ottoman style as well as an inner room overlooking the river. The house is decorated with Ottoman era furnishings, carpets and household items, including an "Ottoman" or storage trunk with beautiful if faded original decoration. The upper floor of the house affords views into the shady, whitewashed courtyard. It is easy to imagine generations of residents and visitors enjoying this cool retreat from the heat of Herzegovinian summers.

A short drive from Mostar brought us to Blagaj. Blagaj is best known for the Dervish tekija, or monastery. Built in the 1500's for a Dervish cult, the tekija stands at the base of a 200 metres high cliff wall and overlooking the source of the River Buna, which is larger than the source of the Danube.  The tekija itself has a quiet, peaceful atmosphere despite the large number of visitors every year and contains  a number of Islamic religious implements and artefacts spread throughout the various sitting and prayer rooms. The wooden lattice work is also interesting and the decorated wooden ceiling in one of the larger rooms is extremely unusual, featuring twisted wood. Visitors can also walk out onto an outside balcony which gives good views of the cliff and the water.

Less well known, but well worth a visit is the Velagic House, approached by walking down a steep lane on the approach to the tekija. The complex was built in 1766 and consists of three houses with courtyards, a guesthouse, a mill, granary, water channels and beautiful gardens. Visitors are shown round by a member of the Velagic family who originated in Hungary and who still own the house. We were guided around the parts of the house that were open by Mirza, a very knowledgeable teenager who speaks good English and is clearly very proud of his family's heritage.

Much of the house is under restoration and it should attract many more visitors once the work is complete. Photographs are allowed in the house itself, but rather strangely not in the very attractive and peaceful garden. Mirza explained to us that this is because of some "problem" with a neighbour who does not like them to have visitors and objects most strongly to photographs. We actually saw this neighbour during our visit who stood scowling across at us from his own garden. Very strange, but don't let this put you off. The house has some beautiful Ottoman area furnishings and some very charming and interesting historical photographs as well as an opportunity to see some of the prized possessions of the Velagic family. Well worth a visit.

All of this in one day and still back to Sarajevo in time for dinner and the evening promenade. And of course, coffee and cake at Samis!

For more pictures from Bosnia-Herzegovia, view the "otherness website" here.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Matthew Bourne's Play Without Words - revived at Sadler's Wells

Matthew Bourne's Play on Words, his take on the 1960's Robert Maugham novella and Joseph Losey film, The Servant, is currently being revived at Sadler's Wells by his New Adventures company.

I saw the 2002 version at the National Theatre and was thrilled that Mr. Bourne had once again created something fresh, exciting and innovative, following on from his successes with his takes on Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Carmen. Ten years later, Play Without Words retains the magic I remember from the first time around and is still gripping, holding the audience in its palm as the story plays out.

As with the novella and the film, Play Without Words tells the story of rich boy Anthony, his relationship with fiancee Glenda but more importantly with the manservant Prentice and the housemaid Sheila. In this version, each of the main characters is played by three dancers - who are all on stage at the same time, and are thus able to show the passage of time as well as providing a fantastic visual experience. The story is extremely dark and shows the balance of power shifting between the different characters and classes. In the early scenes, Prentice does everything for Anthony, including dressing him and applying his deodorant, but this quickly turns into dependancy that allows the manservant to turn the tables and to exercise a dark power himself.

The use of servants as characters to illustrate the power struggle between classes is very much of the time the novella and the film first appeared (the book was published in 1948 and the film came out in 1963) - but the principle is still relevant today showing the dependency of one level of society, or individual, on another and how easily the relationship can be manipulated. But stronger than this is the message that desire, including forbidden desire, can be used to bring down those in positions of power or to gain influence over them. Anthony makes advances to Sheila as well as there being distinctly sexual overtones of the relationship between Anthony and Prentice. It is important to remember that the Profumo Scandal  was contemporaneous to the film version.

This story in all of its formats has a star-studded history. The film starred Dirk Bogarde as the manservant in what became a signature piece for him, with Edward Fox as Anthony, Wendy Craig as the fiancee and Sara Miles in her second film as the housemaid (for which she won a BAFTA). Not a bad line up! As if this wasn't enough, the screenplay was written by Harold Pinter. Bogarde was at his peak during this period, tackling difficult social issues, including in Victim which debuted in 1961 and is said to have influenced the Wolfenden Act of 1967.

Back to the performance. The soundtrack is excellent, with original music by Terry Davies, the score includes some great jazz moments, not least those performed by Mark White on trumpet and Sarah Homer on clarinets and tenor saxophone, but more than this, the soundtrack really sets the mood for the performance, perhaps even outshining that of the movie which was itself significant and included compostions by Johnny Dankworth and a recurring theme sung by Cleo Laine.

I loved the references to the 1960's - the conversation between Mrs Peel and John Stead when Anthony is watching The Avengers on TV, the re-creation of the Salisbury Pub from the 1960's for some of the more sleazy scenes and even the use of Dusty Springfield's I Only Want to be With You for the audience to exit to. The Salisbury is a particularly clever inclusion as the pub also featured in Victim, and was indeed a well known haunt for gay men, prostitutes and other "outsiders" pre the Wolfenden Act. The Salisbury is still there today but is more of a tourist attraction these days with the air of risk having long disappeared. The 1960's are also referenced in other ways. The very clever set includes a backdrop of Soho sleaze signs from that daring decade and of course the sharp suits and Mary Quant styles worn by the female members of the cast all look back to that period.

The audience at Sadler's Wells is a young audience-  and that's a good thing. Many of them will not "get" the references to the 60's in this piece and I suspect many of them will not know of the movie or the novella - although both are referred to in the excellent programme (!), but that doesn't seem to matter as the performance visibly captured the audience's imagination for what seemed like a very speedy one and three quarter hours. If you haven't seen it already then hurry - its only on until 5th August!

Thursday 19 July 2012

Sarajevo - art nouveau, baklava and carbonised chips

I had never been to the former Yugoslavia before a recent short trip to Sarajevo. There are no direct flights from London, so I spent an hour at Zagreb airport waiting for a connection. Technically I've now visited two of the former constituent states of Yugoslavia, but I'm not counting an hour in an airport as a real visit to Croatia, even if I spent another one on the way back.

Sarajevo is a city with a big history. Invasions or annexations by Turks and Austrians. Occupation by Germans. A narrow escape from Stalinist domination due to former leader Tito (who is still much revered) and of course more recently the siege of 1992-95 during the collapse of Yugoslavia. From arrival in the city there are visible signs of almost all of these events, some less expected than others.

Sarajevo by Yekkes

Above - war damaged art nouveau building in the old city centre

The Sarajevo skyline is full of minarets dating from the Ottoman period to the present day and these stand out on the descent to the city from the surrounding hills. Many buildings still show signs of shelling from the most recent war and others remain in ruins. The Latinska Bridge remains as a memory to the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by one Gavrilo Princip in 1914 - lighting the fuse to the First World War. One of the main boulevards is named for Tito. And somewhat unexpectedly, there are many stunning art nouveau buildings from the Austrian period.

The people of Sarajevo also reflect this history. The city is a mix of Bosniaks - Bosnians of muslim background (if not necessarily overtly religious), Serbs and Croats as well as Gypsies and a remnant of a once much larger Jewish community. For the most part its not easy to know who is who. There are fair skinned, fair haired, blue eyed women in headscarves and obvious Islamic dress and there are dark skinned women (and men) in very revealing clothing during the evening promenade around the old city centre when the streets are full of people in their best clothes, shopping, meeting friends and generally being seen. There are very few fully covered women here, although it appears that this is a growing phenomenon and that Saudi Arabian investment is underwriting the provision of new mosques, madrases and cultural centres.

Sarajevo is a very young city - there are children and young people everywhere and although unemployment is sky-high, (indexMUNDI quotes the official rate in 2010 as 43.1%), there is a feeling of confidence here.  The cafes are full and people seem to have money - much of it sent back from relatives working abroad. The city has been regenerating itself through culture. The Sarajevo Film Festival was on during my stay and there is an international Jazz Festival every winter, but these important events can only bring limited job opportunities for locals. The main cultural and historical buildings have been restored and tourists are coming and very welcome.

But back to the art nouveau. There are examples of this architectural style throughout the old city. The largest concentrations I saw were along Marsala Tita (a Parisian style boulevard named for Tito - pictured below), on Obala Kulina Bana (the busy main road running the length of the old town beside the river) and a residential area north of the old town, centred on Tina Ujevica.
Sarajevo by Yekkes

Marsala Tita has a number of glorious apartment blocks with shops on the ground floor. The Salomonova Palace dates from 1912 and was designed by Rudolf Tonnies. The street facing facade of the building has clearly been restored and cleaned and is extremely impressive with a range of nouveau motifs and a quality book shop on the ground floor. The courtyard is open and reveals a commemorative sign to the architect as well as stylish cafes on the ground floor and several floors of flats with walk along balconies. It is easy to imagine such a courtyard in Budapest or Vienna. On the opposite side of Marsala Tita, stands the stunning National Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina (pictured below) - a much reduced form of art nouveau, but with the entrance guarded by two classic nouveau figures holding lamps and decorative freezes on the external walls.The architect was Milan Zlotovic and his building is a showstopper on this busy boulevard.

Sarajevo by Yekkes

The art nouveau ensemble around Tina Ujevica was originally residential but has been used for various purposes over the years. The Villa Mandic  (pictured below) was built in 1907 for lawyer Dr. Nikola Mandic and designed by architect Karl Parzik. The building was once the American Consulate and latterly the Museum of the 14th Winter Olympics held in Sarajevo. Badly damaged in the recent war, the Museum is relocated and the Villa requires significant restoration. It is located at the top of some very steep steps on the side of a hill which gives it a tremendous view of the city. The turrets, colours and grandiose entrance to the building make it well worth the climb.

Sarajevo by Yekkes

Adjacent to Villa Mandic is Heinrich Reiter's villa (pictured below), also designed by Parzik. A fascinating slim tower peeps from behind the overgrown garden and is adjoined to a wonderful piece of Central European architecture, decorated in rich alpine floral style and which at least according to the sign outside is partly used by the British Embassy. If it is the Embassy, and they occupy the part with the satellite dish for goodness sake can they remove it, or put it at the rear of the building - hasn't it already suffered enough? Parzik was Born in 1857 in Jicin in the former Czechoslovakia,spent 60 years of his life in Sarajevo and designed many buildings in the city including the National Museum, the Ashkenazi Synagogue, the Islamic Foundation and numerous churches - evidence of early ecumenicalism perhaps?

A walk along the riverside of Obala Kubina Bala affords great views of the many banks, villas and apartment buildings in nouveau and other interesting styles, including the magnificent Fine Arts Academy, again resembling Hungarian architecture of the period. Most of these buildings are in desperate need of cleaning and further restoration before they are lost.

Food usually features largely on my travels and although I've been very good recently and significantly reduced my cake dependancy, I am afraid I had a major relapse in Sarajevo. These people know a good cake alright, and how could they not, with the Turkish and Austrian influences. Its a bit of a cake paradise. Coffee drinking is a national sport - real coffee that is - in independent, long established cafes with baklava and other eastern sweets, cream cakes, fruit tarts and flakey savoury pastries stuffed with cheese, potato, spinach or meat.

My cafe of choice has to be Ramis (pictured below) on Saraci in the old town. Established in 1912 by one Nezir Nezirovic who named it after one of his sons, four generations later the cafe is still with the same family. Not only are the cakes terrific (best baklava on all my travels) but its also a great location for people watching - get one of the outside tables if you can and see most of Sarajevo come past at some point in the evening. The cafe attracts locals of all ages as well as tourists and its not hard to imagine how it must have been back at the beginning of the last century when perhaps Sarajevo was at its most elegant.

Sarajevo by Yekkes

Continuing the sweet theme, Bosnians like their ice cream too. You can see it everywhere. Cafes sell it from the window, kiosks sell it in the street and queues form at the best shops throughout the evening. The most popular ice cream shop is Egipat on the busy Ferhadija thoroughfare in the old town. There are many flavours to choose from but the vanilla is legendary. There is a story that some Italians were so impressed with it that they offered a huge amount of money for the recipe, but the owners didn't want to sell! I tried it and liked it and thought I detected a taste of caramel in there too...

Bosnian cuisine is very (very) meaty, but the vegetarian can survive quite well here. There is Vegehana, which is not only vegetarian but also non-smoking. Tucked away on a side alley at Ferhadjia 39, the restaurant occupies the ground floor of what appears to have been a residential property, is nicely decorated and furnished in modern minimalist style and has a good menu with vegetarian staples like tofu and seitan as well as salads and my choice of falafel and humous (no surprise there then!). The service is friendly and welcoming although a little disorganised, but certainly worth a visit if you've had enough meat or are looking for a vegetarian oasis. Elsewhere good salads are easy to find, but don't expect a long list of veggie options in most places.

The Inat Kuca restaurant on Veliki Alifakovac has great views of the river from the outside tables and on the evening I ate there, there was also an open air concert in the adjoining square - part of a month of free concerts held during the summer each year. My guide book praised the food (salads, soups, meats and the ubiquitous cheese, spinach and potato pies) but had harsh words for the service. I enjoyed the food (cheese pie with various salads) and thought the service was fine - although there only appeared to be one waiter for rather a lot of tables. The interior of the restaurant is worth a look with its beautifully decorated ceilings, walls and open kitchen. Cosy in the winter. The cheese pie by the way is a variation of what some of us know as burekas.

The only food "disaster" I encountered was in another restaurant where my friend ordered chips as a side dish. Well, chips appeared but not like you've ever seen in a restaurant before. Blackened and hard and as my friend Claudio described them, "carbonised". A new dish perhaps - chips carbon(ise)ara? But even here, there was much smiling and wanting us to enjoy the food, so a few burnt chips can be overlooked...

You might also like Milan Zlokovic's Modernist Bank

Wednesday 11 July 2012

I Am Forbidden - a stunning first novel in English by Anouk Markovits

I have just finished reading Anouk Markovits' English language debut - I Am Forbidden.  The book traces the history of two girls - Mila and Atara - born into the ultra-Orthdox and virulently anti-Zionist Satmar community in Transylvania before the Second World War.

The Holocaust wiped out much of Transylvania's once substantial Jewish presence and both girls suffer losses during this period.There is reference to Rebbe (Rabbi) Yoel Teitelbaum - a real historical figure who excommunicated anyone with Zionist leanings or even who had contact with any Zionist supporters, yet took a place on the controversial "Kasztner train" that rescued over 1,600 Hungarian Jews from Eichmann's hands, first of all by having them sent to Bergen-Belsen and keeping them away from the other prisoners and then transferring them to Switzerland where they were freed.

Reszo Kasztner was a committed  Hungarian Zionist and depending on your view, risked his life to save as many Jews as he possibly could in impossible circumstances and making terrible choices to do so. Anouk's book makes great play of choices, including choices to be truthful or not, to live or not and to stay in the Satmar community or not. Both girls struggle with their own choices as they grow into adulthood and take different paths.

Mila cannot shake off her childhood memory of seeing her mother run towards the Satmar Rebbe as he sat on the edge of an open carriage on the Kasztner train and seeing her shot down and killed before she could reach him. As she grows up she is told the Satmar story that Kasztner was not responsible for rescuing the Rebbe, rather that Hashem was responsible. This also mirrors history when in the 1950's Kasztner took a court case after being accused of collaborating with Eichmann, of making money from his rescue scheme and of only helping Zionist supporters. The accusations were found to be untrue but the slur led to Kasztner being assassinated in Tel Aviv. It is believed he had asked the Satmar Rebbe to testify on his behalf during the trial, but Teitelbaum refused saying that only God had helped him.

Markovits herself is from a Satmar community but left rather than agree to a marriage that she did not want. Born in Paris, she now lives in New York, has published two books and secured a BSc, an MA (architecture)and a PhD (Romance studies)! She gives interesting insights into a little known world, including some of the rules governing relationships between husband and wife, rules of purity and ideas about how much religious learning is suitable for women and girls. Although she left the community, she stills writes with some affection for the individuals and particularly for the women characters who strive to keep the rules as well as to ensure their families are happy and healthy. There is even some sympathy for Mila's husband, Josef who when finding a terrible truth about his daughter cannot bring himself to denounce her and carries a hard secret to his death - despite the shocking denouement which is not revealed until almost the last page!

The story moves quickly and is extremely engaging despite the unfamiliarity of the world it inhabits. I covered the just under 300 pages in two sittings, not wanting to put it down and not wanting it to end. The reader is drawn into this "otherness" which deliberately separates itself from the rest of the world as well as from other Jews.  Indeed Satmarim deny the Jewishness of Jews who do not subscribe to their view of the world.

If anyone from London's Jewish Book Week is reading this, please book Anouk Markovits NOW for next year's event and continue the tradition of giving us access to great contemporary (and translated) French writers. My book of the year so far.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Randy Crawford and Joe Sample 30 years on

Thirty years ago I bought a ticket to see the Crusaders featuring Randy Crawford at Newcastle City Hall. It was just after Street Life had been a massive hit and knowing little about jazz then, I was really there to see Ms Crawford. Imagine my disappointment when an announcement was made that she was too ill to sing and that we would "only" have the Crusaders.

The Crusaders were great, but I always felt I'd missed out somehow. Well that's now been put right as Randy Crawford and the Joe Sample Trio shared a platform last night at "Under the Bridge" a new venue (to me), underneath Chelsea Football Club's stadium. I have been a fan of Joe Sample's music for a very long time now and over the last few years he has again teamed up with Randy to record a couple of excellent albums - Feeling Good and No Regrets as well as more recently, a cracking live album.

Its always a bit of worry when you go to hear someone who had their greatest "hits" a long time ago. Will the voice be the same? Will she do some of the old songs as well as the current stuff? What if its a disappointment? Well, I had no reason to worry. The voice was fantastic - and I have to say sounded as fresh and clear as on the recording of Street Life! She did some old songs and some newer recordings (although all classics culled from her recent albums). And she was no disappointment.

The evening opened with a short set from maestro Joe Sample and his trio - the bass player of which is Sample's grown up son Nick. At 73 years old Joe is still full of energy, tells a good story to introduce the songs and treated us to X Marks The Spot and Memories, from his excellent album The Pecan Tree (which I realise much to my surprise is now 10 years old!). X Marks the Spot was dedicated to the former New Orleans high priestess of voodoo - Marie Laveau. Joe recounted stories from his childhood summers in New Orleans staying with female relatives who kept him in check with amongst other things, stories about Laveau. Continuing the theme, he moved us to Spellbound from his 2004 Soul Shadows album before Baby Ain't I Good To You which was his way of bringing Ms Crawford to the stage.

She was given a huge reception by the largely middle aged audience and the treats began straight away with her version of Nina Simone's Feeling Good. There followed a string of blues inflected numbers - This Bitter Earth, But Beautiful (always associated for me with Shirley Horn), End of the Line; Me, Myself and I made famous by Billie Holiday and Tell Me More and Then Some which was penned by Holiday. And you know what? That Randy Crawford can sing these numbers as if they were her own. And something else. When Randy Crawford sings, you can hear the lyrics. All of them. No slurring or stumbling and any ad-libbing comes during the breaks or at the end of the song. Understated but with devastating effect.

As you would expect the biggest cheers of the night were for the "hits" - One Day I'll Fly Away, Street Life and Last Night At Danceland (which I love and which is inexplicably underrated). Street Life was the song she chose to close the show but she wasn't going to be allowed to get away that easily and an extremely insistent crowd brought her back for a perfect version of Almaz and a sweet closer of Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe as a tribute to Mr. Sample.

A few more songs would have been very welcome. There was no Rainy Night In Georgia, That's How Heartaches are Made or her fantastic versions of Rio de Janeiro Blue and Cajun Moon. But, if she'd sang everything we wanted we would have been there all night.

Now aged 60, she sounded as good as ever. Physically very different to her sylph like younger days, much of the performance was given seated and she claimed to be extremely tired. She clearly enjoyed herself although the frequent bursts of laughter between songs remained unexplained and a couple of comments from the stage including "has anyone seen the key to my chastity belt" were a little strange.

Joe Sample is a real gentleman, regaling us with stories about being pressed to record "dance music" in the 1980's and his desire to have been an adult in the 1940's at the peak of Harlem's jazz era before changing his mind when he realised that many of those great names did not live to be 50!

So was it worth waiting 30 years for the two of them to perform together and to hear Randy Crawford sing live? Damn right it was. I hope not to wait so long for the next time.