Cabaret Festival

Cabaret Festival Review: Come In, Spinner: The Concert – Vince Jones & Nina Ferro

Jazz classics revisited with elegance

Jazz classics revisited with elegance

Presented by: Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Reviewed: 11 June, 2023

It’s three years since I’ve heard Vince Jones sing. Remember his Festival gig with pickup band The Heavy Hitters in 2020? I also recall his Van Morrison tribute show back in 2019. Vince Jones fans will delight in his return. This time Jones, together with Nina Ferro, sings jazz standard golden-oldies which cannot be bettered – songs plucked from the popular double-platinum album he did for the 1990 TV mini-series Come In Spinner. A superb sixteen-piece big band, led by conductor/arranger Steve Newcomb and driven by MD/pianist Matt McMahon, provides the musical engine room; with the exception of piano, double bass and drums, all are either wind or brass players.

The playlist is classic, and it’s precisely what the capacity Festival Theatre crowd have come to hear. We know what to expect from Jones, and he doesn’t disappoint. His lean frame, wrapped in a buttoned, loose-jacketed grey suit, trademark black shirt and tie, stands behind the mic and to the side of a large lectern stacked with charts. Hands held behind his back, head tipped back for each melisma, eyes often closed, he begins the concert with a slow take on J. Fred Coots’ You Go To My Head. Jones’ voice remains as reedy and textured as ever, nor has his rhythmic sensibility diminished. All is as we knew it would be.

But straight after this, Nina Ferro takes the stage for her first solo, Don’t Get Around Much Any More: the temperature and pressure of the room change instantly. Ferro is an electric presence on stage, even before she opens her very well-trained mouth. To a drum-tight arrangement by Newcomb, Ferro swings through this standard with skill, energy, evident pleasure and vocal ease. Her constant contact with the audience puts her in a different echelon of performer from Jones. It makes for a well-balanced evening. Her headlong take-no-prisoners tempo on Lover, Come Back To Me, featuring Karl Dunnicliff’s scorching runs on double bass, leaves the audience breathless. But her encore, The Nearness Of You, simply accompanied by genius Matt McMahon on piano, is an authoritative masterclass in restraint, musicianship clarity and command of her instrument.

Jones scat-mumbles his way into each new song in his idiosyncratic way. His jazz idioms include melismas (I Get Along Without You Very Well), innovative phrasing (Body and Soul) and a lazy, loping swing (Li’l Darlin’). Although the two Jones-Ferro duets (I’ve Got You Under My Skin and a rocking 6/8 of the Vince Jones/Doug de Vries Trustworthy Little Sweethearts) are less successful than either vocalist’s solo numbers, they are still great entertainment.

Both instrumental-only numbers (In a Sentimental Mood and Hubbard’s Byrdlike) display the band to excellent effect, featuring generous solo spots and reminding us of the uniformly high standard of jazz musicians on stage. Instrumental highlights include Max Grynchuk’s trumpet tone, consistent sensitivity and flair from drummer Gordon Rytmeister, and – always – the marvellous Matt McMahon on piano, whose presence is integral to any Vince Jones concert.

A word about the arrangements. Advance publicity trumpeted “dynamic new interpretations”. This is not an overstatement. Arrangements by Steve Newcomb are arrestingly good. He brings a contemporary sensibility to each song, with unexpected harmonies, inventive deployment of orchestral resources and kinky time signatures. Notable are the lush brass chording on Mood Indigo and Li’l Darlin’, minimalism of The Man I Love, and full-throated band sound on I’ve Got You Under My Skin.

A reliable Vince Jones and a surprisingly exciting Nina Ferro head up an entertaining concert of skilled Australian jazz musicians working at a high level of excellence. Add conductor Steve Newcomb’s arrangements and MD Matt McMahon’s piano; stir vigorously – captivating!

Reviewed by Pat H. Wilson

Photo credit: Claudio Raschella

Venue: Festival Theatre
Season: Ended
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes

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