Riverside Theatres, May 10
Ali McGregor calls this show Alchemy because she tries her hand at gilding trashy pop tunes with a veneer of jazz. It is not the best use for her considerable talents.
Long before her successful operatic career McGregor loved jazz’s great divas and was also seduced by the 80s pop of her teens. Her idea here was that with the aid of a classy jazz trio – Sam Keevers (piano, musical director), Sam Zerna (bass) and Chris Wallace (drums) – she could refashion songs ranging from Tainted Love to Never Tear Us Apart.
The notion is hardly new, and it hardly ever succeeds, even for exceptional jazz artists. McGregor is not that, so the inevitable upshot was that she sounded like yet another pop singer (albeit with a versatile voice) fronting a jazz band. Oddly enough the song that worked best was Kiss’s I Was Made For Lovin’ You, which, stripped of its silly disco froth and slowed to a dangerous tempo, became immensely sexier.
Thankfully the guarantee with McGregor is that even when the musical risks fall flat we are still entertained by her natural charm and wit as well as her voice.
After Alchemy came a set of jazz standards, which were peculiarly impersonal until she stepped away from the idiom and tore apart Whatever Lola Wants with a dazzling convergence of lightness and drama. This sparked a surge in quality. She began Summertime by applying her rounded soprano to an operatic reading, then dug into her jazziest singing of the night. Peel Me A Grape worked a treat and finally she offered My Funny Valentine as an encore. Taken at a v-e-r-y slow tempo she now deployed truer instincts for phrasing and tone.
This also featured a gorgeously subtle solo from Keevers, whose trio had a major asset in Wallace, a UK-based Canadian drummer of supreme musicality. In an instrumental Caravan they played with the rhythm as a cat might with a plump mouse.