Saturday, 4 February 2012

Setting Standards

Paul McCartney - Kisses On The Bottom

I watched Paul McCartney's Camden BBC Electric Proms performance the other night and I was blown away by its brilliance. He has it honed to the spectacular bone with a tight band and a set of classic songs that suck in, like a wondrous black hole, all of our nostalgia and worship for the music as the performance generates its excellent immediacy but also this history. For me - hey here's a platitude - it's the Beatles' material that soars, yet I can utter this because there are plenty of Wings fans, but that's not my real interest.

The point of this brief intro is to presage the enthusiasm I therefore had for McCartney's latest release, an enthusiasm bolstered by ignorance as I didn't realise it is a set of musical standards [with two new songs that merge rather than shine within]. Have I been disappointed? Yes. That comes from [a] the expectation aroused by the Electric Proms performance [though I was shocked to realise it was 5 years ago in 2007....] and [b] the lack of character in the re-presentations of these songs. As 'standards' they aren't exactly obvious in the way that so many other similar artists have made their selections - which had potential - but the range in the performance is from lounge jazz to bedtime lullaby. Arrangements are stripped to the basic - which had potential - but McCartney's vocal takes on a light and indistinct tone that just doesn't sound like what I expect of him nor do the songs any particular justice. It's all rather one dimensional. The title is, in the end, as twee as the overall sound.

Malia - Black Orchid

And the point, therefore, of both of the above paragraphs is to presage the enthusiasm I do have for the new release by British jazz vocalist Malia and her selection of musical standards that get everything you want from cover versions: individual interpretation and a sustained high quality of performance. The songs and Malia's singing are underpinned by superb production and playing and it is a delight throughout. This production is also kept simple [some engaging percusive jollity on Marriage Is For Old Folks] with the occasional echo of Malia's African roots. The jazz venue for these is intimate sultry club and close-up, palpable performance. Glistening. Distinctive. Sensuous. Teasing.

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