Line up: Cecilia Stalin - Vocals, Khari Cabral Simmons - Bass, Laurie Lowe - Drums, Alex Bennett - Keyboards
As part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival, a visit to the small but perfectly-formed Pizza Express Soho is de rigueur. We find the suave Ms. Stalin opening the gig with A Shining Star. It is always such a pleasure to listen to this piece. Addictive, soft, melodic. Khari Cabral Simmons, whom I have the pleasure of meeting after the concert, has arrived all the way from Atlanta to join Cecilia and the rest of the band. It is a close-knit affair. The band plays top notes from the start.
Norwegian Wood, from the marvellous EP, A Story of Love (2015), follows. I love this rendition; it is, in my opinion, better than the original! There is style, passion, emotion in Cecilia’s voice every time I hear this piece performed.
Right Here - a new song being performed for the first time demonstrates a new tone, a new way of Ms. Stalin to open up our ears and hearts.
Throughout the performance the entente between Cecilia and Khari is beautiful, precise, admirable. Khari’s bass has been explosive throughout. It is a privilege to watch this great musician live.
A little interlude and Cecilia chats to the audience about her Swedish origin and the fact that Christmas Day is celebrated on the 24th December, that there are only two films to watch on telly, her tone-deaf mother - her smile says it all!
Scatting in jazz is an art, not just a technique! Cecilia Stalin knows this art and performs it alla perfezione (perfectly). I love listening to her samba, groovesque-style scatting.
Mother Of The Future concludes the first set on what can only be described as a wondrous music experience. Alex Bennett playing on keys is crazy, furious and passionate.
Breeze A Peace, a new track from Cecilia’s forthcoming EP, opens the second set. The dark, welcoming venue that is Pizza Express Jazz Soho is just right for an artist like Cecilia. She and her band look perfectly comfortable on the small stage, but there is such a wonderful atmosphere, such unity. The smiling Khari on bass is a joy to watch, he plays with ease and elegance.
The next track, penned by the great Stevie Wonder, Never In Your Sun is another good rendition - in fact, Khari covered this a few years ago featuring India Arie on the track. But it is Give Up by Diana Ross, one of Cecilia’s favourite artists, that sees Alex Bennett playing with verve - those keys are on fire, and Cecilia is on top form, singing with strength, panache and velvety tones that are so much her own signature.
Naima follows, a track by the majestic Coltrane, taken from Cecilia’s Steps Like A Giant. She sings with her eyes closed, the feeling of sentiment a recurrent feature in her singing. Such an amazing talent.
Seawind (the group) - a common denominator in the meeting of two great minds like Stalin and Simmons - is further proof of what an incredible musical combo they are.
The audience is still and yet nodding, happy, almost entranced.
An engaging show, beautifully performed. One of the best I have seen this year.
Words: Erminia Yardley
Photos: Carl Hyde