Last night I went to the PizzaExpress Jazz Club on Dean Street for a gig. Nay – a basement gig (the best kind) – that was part of the restaurant’s New Generation music series.
Similarly to the way the brand tied up with top Italian chef , Francesco Mazzei, to create a new range of rustic dishes – Pizza Express has brought in Nick Luscombe (of Radio 3 fame) to curate several events that pay homage to its musical heritage while showcasing new talent. Sounds marvellous, no?
We arrived early enough to get a table and munched through some dough balls, wine and pizza slices while waiting for the music to start. When it did, I was treated to what I can only describe as a miniature slice of the Big Chill – and we all know how much I (slightly obsessively) love that.
First up was soul singer Stac and her trio of backing singers, plus band. When asked about her influences, she referenced a quote that suggested genius comes from god – and those who don’t have it, simply aren’t ready to receive it. It was a lovely sentiment, and one delivered with such endearing humour that you couldn’t help but love her for it. A singer who can work a room like that is most definitely one worth taking note of.
Musically, I wasn’t expecting what came next. The super-soft harmonies of the four women on stage had an almost barbershop quartet quality, topped with a hint of something siren-esque and a slightly southern twang to the guitar.
Stac’s beautiful voice then soared and dipped through modern tales of heartache from her album, Turn That Light Out. Good soul always reminds me of Christmas; it’s something to do with feeling warm, relaxed and excited all once. Plus, I always used to listen to Tracy Chapman in the winter with my parents (I have no idea why), and her voice, though much higher and more delicate, reminds me of the quality you hear on Fast Car.
I went over a bought a CD that Stac signed. She was utterly lovely and smiled happily while I babbled at her for a bit, even though all she probably wanted to do was gulp down the glass of red in front of her.
Then we heard from The Simonsound, a project by Simon James and Matt Ford, which caught my attention immediately when described as ‘early electro, sci-fi inspired music’. That’s right up my street.
Though they’ve been working together for years (one’s of Matt’s guises is DJ Format and Simon has produced with him in the past), The Simonsound was born out of a request to create something from the Chapell Music Library. Last night’s performance included music from the pair’s first album, Reverse Engineering.
I’ll admit, it started out slowly. DJ Yoda style video sampling showed robotic cartoons in the background and scratchy doodles that complimented the 50s/60s inspired beats. I could have been back at The Reveller’s Stage at the Big Chill, such was the vibe. I was lulled into a happy sense of familiarity and nipped to the bar. When I came back however, I was all but smacked in the face when Laura J Martin appeared (as if from nowhere, I’m really not sure how she got up there so quickly) and started tearing up the flute like I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYONE PLAY BEFORE.
Well yes, yes she can and she did. The mouths of everyone on my table dropped, literally. Then she started singing, like a breathy mash-up of Fiona Apple and early Portishead. I was gawping for what felt like forever.
The pace continued from then on in, with Simon on a synth mic singing through one track and a second singer – who sounded a lot like Bjork – taking the lead with Laura back on stage with an electric ukulele (she’s *that* cool). The latter combo of all three artists had ‘cult status’ written all over it.
Big love to Rudi at Unity for the invite to a truly wonderful evening.