LONDON VOCAL PROJECT | London, Kings Place

As the perfectly pastelled, smile-laden London Vocal Project took the stage at Kings Place the gentleman sitting in front bellowed ‘ENCORE’ at the top of his voice. It was that sort of anticipation that led to the European premiere of this remarkable account of Jon Hendricks’ work that people were crying for more before a note had been sung.

Having set the scene in what I hope is an endearing and effective way, the real challenge begins: distilling some of the most remarkable singing I have ever witnessed into words. Here goes. The first half was in essence a warm-up for the musicians and audience alike. The LVP took a perfectly unison breath, exhaled, and pure vocal gold span into the air. Led and accompanied by Pete Churchill (piano) — joined by Steve Brown (drums) and Dave Whitford (bass) — the first half comprised of music sewn together with the words of Hendricks. With the absolute finest blend, balance and diction the choir led off with ‘It’s Sand Man’ and ‘Summertime’ before being joined on stage by the first showpiece soloist: Kevin Fitzgerald Burke. With a superb vocalese trumpet solo he heralded Norma Winston who in turn delivered killer vocals that led to Jon’s daughter, Michele on ‘Ev’rybody’s Boppin’ (we most certainly were).

With the heat of the premature summer’s day evaporating in the cool of the concert hall, we returned after the interval for the main event: a full choral rendition of Jon Hendrick’s Miles Ahead. First, let’s take stock of what an incredible project this is: a fully lyricised version of Gil Evans’ arrangements for Miles Davis’ seminal album. For Jon to have set out on this monumental artistic undertaking is such a beautiful thing. To then add in the passion and drive of Pete and the LVP to bring it to life is an act of almost incomprehensible devotion. With Kevin, Norma and Michele rotating through the vocal leads, the soundbed of the choir elevated the rendition to serene heights. This was an exercise in seemingly effortless dexterity and musical intuition. Before we knew it, we’d wound from ‘Springsville’ to ‘I don’t wanna be kissed’ and it was gone — a moment of musical tenderness made possible through focus and understanding it is hard to quantify.

This review may be ladened with gushing hyperbole. I make no excuses. In fact, the best way to refute this level of effusive reporting would be to see and hear this magnificent project for yourself when it tours again around the planned album release in 2018. Michele said that never in her wildest dreams did she believe that this would come to fruition. Well, what a triumph of the head, lungs and heart of all concerned that this would become a reality. Turns out the gentleman sitting in front had it right at the start. Encore. Encore.

The project had its American premiere in New York where they performed for Jon Henricks himself, a trip made possible by the generosity of Quincy Jones and The Jazz Foundation of America. Find out more about the project here.

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