Smooth to the Touch

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YolanDa Brown at The One Touch Theatre Eden Court: Thursday 19th June 2014. A Review. See the link for more photographs of the evening with YolanDa Brown.

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“She [YolandDa] is glamorous and talkative and immediately sets the tone for the evening”
This is a return visit to the OneTouch Theatre for YolanDa Brown, a venue that she loves and for that, we should be grateful. As it happens, her Jamaican roots are showing with an endorsement of the towns Jamaican restaurant – Cool Runnings. A rare establishment it would seem. But as the night unfolds those roots are writ large in a set list that pays homage to her biggest influence – Bob Marley.

Actually I’m getting ahead of myself just a wee bit there. The first thing I notice is that this is a very ‘clean’ stage and clearly we can expect technology to be put to good use here. Technically it is a YolanDa Brown Quintet, and keyboards (Manley), guitar (Ed), bass (Nathan) and drums (Simon) all take to the stage ahead of YolanDa Brown.

Building on that clean aesthetic with a simple but effective wardrobe, they lay down a cool, smooth backdrop for YolanDa to take to the stage with her soprano sax. She is glamorous and talkative and immediately sets the tone for the evening by entering into a scene setting conversation with the audience. I’m bound to say that she is also relaxed, confident, charming and genuine.

The set opens with one of her own compositions ‘Dear John’ and the first break of the evening goes to Manley on keyboards – the response from the audience suggests we have a jazz literate gathering. All of the songs have story, explanation and occasionally direction with them whether that be her own compositions or standards such as ‘My Funny Valentine’. ‘Tokyo Sunset’ has a terrific dub style jazz break while ‘Confusion’ features an improvised conversation between guitar and saxophone.

YolanDa turns quizmaster in her introduction to her (aforementioned) greatest influence – encouraging the audience to applaud when they have spotted the artist and then the melodies in this superb medley that includes ‘Three Little Birds’, ‘Redemption Song’, ‘Wait in Vain’ and – an audience highlight – a duet with the audience who sang the ‘is this love that I’m feeling’ refrain while YolanDa improvised a response.

Bob Marley returns in the second half with a quite stunning and emotional rendition of ‘No Woman No Cry’ – preceded by her sharing with the audience the news that she now has a four-month old daughter. YolanDa Brown has always embraced the personal in her music, it was something of an epiphany that led to her performing in a realisation that it music is also meant to be shared. She now appreciates that life events take that to a whole new level with songs, even firm personal favourites, taking on new personal meaning.

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” While Brown is clearly the ‘band leader’ there is nonetheless a democracy and respect among these very accomplished players “

Another ‘clap when you know’ quiz and this time the technology is put to full use as YolanDa takes her soprano sax walkabout stopping at various points to sit and play among a clearly thrilled audience. After that a meet the band special – shout out their name and get treated to individual improvised breaks. While Brown is clearly the ‘band leader’ there is nonetheless a democracy and respect among these very accomplished players that adds to the overall feel-good ambience of the evening.

Okay, so you return from a school trip to be told by your music teacher to get down to Eden Court for a saxophone workshop. This is essentially how Millburn Academy fourth year pupil Neavan Lobbans’ day unfolded – except that he also took up the invitation to pop by for a duet during the show, the last number to be precise.

I had the chance to talk to Neavan, he struck me as a charming and grounded young man; he is also a very talented alto sax player who didn’t seem at all fazed to be on stage offering his own accomplished improvised solo break or when in a duet with YolanDa Brown. A member of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland, Neavan Lobban clearly has a big future ahead of him.

This was a fine evening of essentially smooth jazz with pop, soul and reggae influences alongside some jazz standards. Accomplished, complex, sophisticated but always accessible, if you were new to smooth jazz then it’s hard to imagine a better introduction. If you’re already sold on the genre, then this will have been one of the finest evenings you’ve had out in a while.

See the link for more photographs of the evening with YolanDa Brown.

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Roddy McKenzie
Roddy McKenzie
Life-long engagement with music and a truly eclectic taste (although prog-rock and metal will usually have me scrambling for the off button). If pushed, I would have to say the Velvet Underground are one of the most important band’s of all time. Although I consider myself first and foremost a photographer, as regards reviewing I guess I cut my teeth in the vibrant fanzine scene of the 80’s. Around the same time I started taking photographs and, to be brief, performance and photography were made for each other: perfect match.

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