Concourse Concert Hall, June 4
And then it happens: her chocolatey contralto disappears like a missile into the ozone layer, leaving vapour trails of improbably high notes. It’s not the range that floors you (although I’ve probably never heard a singer with more), but the beauty: the complete absence of any brittleness of sound or look-at-me grandstanding; the exquisite musicality, control and dynamics. That all this happens on an inverted, dream-like version of Gimme Shelter just thickens the spell.
Of course Lisa Fischer knows something about that song. For a quarter of a century this was her big feature as the Rolling Stones’ main backing singer, and it is a testament to her artistry that she opts not to trade on the crowd-pleasing potential of anything closely echoing the Stones. So, together with her musical director, JC Maillard (guitars, saz, Fender Rhodes, vocals) and the other members of Grand Baton (bassist Aidan Carroll and drummer Thierry Arpino), she transformed it from a much-loved rock fossil into something Ariel might have conjured in the stratosphere. There her voice soared and writhed, Carroll played a transfixing double bass solo of contrasting muscularity, and the audience added the most celestial singalong I can recall.
She also reinvented two other Stones songs: Miss You (whisked off the disco floor clean into the air) and Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which was relocated to the Sahara with help from Maillard’s baritone-register saz (or baglama). Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song was another to receive the saz treatment, while that band’s Rock and Roll emerged barely recognisable from some Louisiana swamp.
During the gentlest material Fischer was reminiscent of the great Betty Carter, stretching vowels to snapping point, as if to milk them of every last vestige of meaning. Yet when the concert began such musical heights seemed off the radar. The opening Message in a Bottle and subsequent Maillard original were so pedestrian it seemed possible she didn’t know how best to use her phenomenal voice when not in the service of others. So much for that idea.