Jazz review: Sheila Jordan

Ronnie Scott's, London ****

Sheila Jordan, the diminutive 72-year-old singer from Detroit, is a compelling vocal improv expert with a devoted audience in a small space. But at first she seemed too introspective, small-voiced, untheatrical an artist for a Ronnie Scott's audience of overheated passers-by gasping for the next drink. Would she get a break, or end up singing to herself? The outcome proved that you should always have faith in the communicative powers of conviction and skill combined.

Jordan - who was singing on Pennsylvania's radio stations by the time she was 14, was encouraged by Charlie Parker, and studied with cool-school piano guru Lennie Tristano - has the pedigree and intelligence to draw all kinds of audiences into her own modest but carefully tended backyard. With a repertoire of contemporary jazz tunes and standards, Jordan and British pianist Nick Weldon's trio effortlessly brought the ambient noise down to the singer's own confidingly conversational level, the only departures from which were the enthusiastic bursts of applause.

Jordan is not as fiery and ruggedly challenging as the much-missed Betty Carter, but there are evocative echoes of Carter in her subtle warping of pitch and improviser's resourcefulness. She combined a softly propulsive swing, hissing cymbal-like sibilance and a sharp, sax-harmonics squeak on the accents on the engaging Humdrum Blues, a swinger with a Hit the Road Jack bassline unfurled by the immaculate Jeff Clyne.

She sounded as if she was skimming dreamily on air currents in the rather diffuse melody of Tom Harrell's Buffalo Wing, and pulled lazily at the rhythmic shape of Cole Porter's I Concentrate on You ("your smile, so warm and ge-e-en-tle") as it swayed over a deft Latin shuffle from Trevor Tomkins's drums. The children's song, Dat Dere, caught exactly the chemistry of innocence and laconic worldliness that is part of Jordan's charm, and a melange of I Got Rhythm, Ornithology and Rhythm-a-ning typified an absorption in the inner workings of bebop's complex machinery that passes most singers by.

Quiet please, unique expert at work.

Until Saturday. Box office: 020-7439 0747.

Ronnie Scott's


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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