Vince Jones

Foundry 616, May 30 

Vince res
Photo: Allyson Moore.

Most singers make you want to cut your own ears off they’re so relentlessly awful. Take the hollow shrieking that passes for singing on TV’s faddish talent quests. “Hear how high I can sing,” they screech. “Hear how long I can strangle a note. See how desperately I emote while doing it!”

Billie Holiday would have assumed she were watching a comedy.

Jazz singers aren’t exempt. Some think warbling all over a single vowel (called melisma) is mandatory, and thereby mangle them until all intelligibility is flayed from the surrounding word and lyric.

Vince Jones does it, too: not as empty frills, however, but to heighten the music; to extrude beauty and wring the essence from a line. Unlike most would-be jazz singers Jones is a natural improviser and risk-taker, and his ears are soaked in the music’s grooves and harmonies.

If occasionally the risks might see his intonation wobble on its high-wire for a moment, infinitely more often his singing sucks you deeper into the truth of a song, as on Our Town, Blame It On My Youth, Winter In America and Rebellious Bird.

Matt McMahon is more than just Jones’s long-term musical director, song-writing collaborator and ideal accompanist. His piano playing is to Jones what starry skies are to the moon: a context in which it appears to best advantage. His solos were always song-centric, yet little explosions of imagination, notably on Wonder World. Among the new pieces they have penned for a forthcoming album Between Your Eyes shone out.

Jones has always fielded top-shelf bands, and this one was no different, completed by bassist Brett Hirst and drummer James Hauptmann: players capable of pithy, arresting solos, and of blurring the rhythmic lines between the soul numbers and the jazzier ones. Peeping through it all from time to time came Jones’s trumpet: almost shy, but – just like his singing – without artifice. 

Vince Jones: Foundry 616, last Saturday of each month from July.