Hot jazz at cool new venue
Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
There's a new venue for jazz in town. St Andrew, that is. It is Oasis on the Oxford as in Oxford Road, Kingston 5.
Its inaugural jazz concert was held last Tuesday evening, and while the on-the-grass, under-the-stars location was cool, the patrons felt no chill. The jazz was too hot for that.
Patrons were especially aroused, to the extent that they were dancing in their seats, by the ebullient Karen Smith and her band, the main act. Bassist Jackie Jackson, Smith's husband - and she continually reminded the audience of the fact - led the band, which also included Desi Jones (drums), Christopher McDonald (keyboard) and Ian Hird (saxophone and flute).
The show's emcee was Mrs Lorraine Clunie, joint proprietor of Oasis with her husband, and she informed the audience that the enterprise would, in addition to presenting jazz concerts, function as a wedding centre, an Irish-themed pub and a restaurant specialising in Jamaican dishes.
Production coordinator Ken Nelson told The Gleaner that the concerts will be held every other month.
Almost directly across the road from Oasis on the Oxford is the Jamaica Pegasus hotel which has staged its own concerts, Jazz in the Garden, on the last Sunday of alternate months for years. If the two sets of concerts are juxtaposed to provide maximum benefit to jazz aficionados, they could have that music every month.
There was a crescent moon in the western sky at dusk when the concert began with instrumental jazz by Ozoune and the Pon Fyah band. By the time they had finished their set, comprising a dozen or so well-played tunes, the sky had darkened to deep indigo and numerous stars had appeared to keep the lunar body's company.
Then it was time for the first singer, Nina Karle, a young woman who, the emcee said, had accompanied both Jamaica's Sly and Robbie and the international singer Sinead O'Connor. Wearing glasses and a black dress, Karle sang a variety of songs, 12 in all.
She started with an Ozoune-arranged, jazzy version of Marley's Is This Love I'm Feeling, a positive love song, and ended about 45 minutes later with Amy Winehouse's I Cheated Myself, a song about a relationship in problems.
Slow and sultry
In between, she got slow and sultry with the standard For Once in my Life, strong and sincere with The Boy From Ipanema, and soft and simple with Alma. She conveyed a feeling of romance with The Way You Look Tonight, and adopted Nina Simone's original styling for her hits Sinner Man and the immortal My Baby Just Cares For Me.
The audience liked Karle and was generous with its applause as her set ended. That meant it was time for refreshment at the drink and food tables. As the evening had grown cooler, it was not surprising that hot fish soup proved popular with the patrons.
At 8:15, Smith began her set by singing On a Clear Day while walking through the audience. On her way to the bandstand in the gazebo, she gave a big hug to friend and fellow musician Marjorie Whylie, a patron.
With her bright smile, expressive and superbly modulated voice, Smith charmed her listeners for just over an hour. Through her performance, and especially toward the end, she danced around the platform. Smith, a most experienced performer, knows about building toward a climax.
She actually had a five-song climax. She suggested she was finished by thanking the audience for a positive reception after singing How Glad I Am, her 11th song, next launched into a jazzy All of Me, then in quick succession belted out You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, Say a Little Prayer and, the culminating song, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Smith has a well-structured act and it drew enthusiastic applause as the versatile singer left the stage with a promise: "Looking forward to seeing you here again."
If the Clunies can regularly get shows of a similarly high quality, Tuesday's concert should be the first of many.