Jazz guitarist, DJ, producer, overall wunder artist, Nicola Conte played at Ronnie Scott’s at the beginning of January. I watched Nicola perform with his combo a year ago at Ronnies and he never ceases to surprise me. He is one of those artists that quietly explodes on the stage to produce a starry performance of class and delectation.
This time round Nicola fronted his band with a couple of new additions, including the suave Zara McFarlane on vocals.
From the beginning of the gig, Nicola is head down, in complete concentration; his is a particular style and when he talks about a new direction on the night, one of “spiritual jazz”, the crowd is listening.
A quick diversion: Strata-East Records, the American label, is well equipped to offer such type of jazz. Think Gill Scott-Heron, for example, who recorded for them.
All Praise To Allah - the opening track for the first set, does create such spirituality. Nicola seems to have a way of bringing out talent, for example: Claudio Filippini on piano is superb on the night.
Zara enters. A Roy Ayers cover, Love From The Sun is sung beautifully and it does the atmosphere in the room wonders: a very special aura, the everlasting smile Zara offers the crowd is unique.
Filippini’s piano flows whilst a young audience nods, some gently moving along to the sound whilst sitting on their chairs! There are at least four different nationalities at play on the stage: English, Italian, Swedish, Ethiopian. This is the stuff of dreams when music can be performed with such ease and perfection - uniting, melting barriers, making a difference.
Spirit Of Nature - a quietly melodic tune made even more so by the sweet voice of Zara. And on this track, Nicola nods his head gently to the vibe, he is in his own element, his own zone.
A couple of tracks follow which embrace an African jazz sound, a mélange of samba with percussion and bass, this is for sure a different sound.
Zara delights us all with a track from her album Angie La La. “It’s all vowels” reminds Zara and again, we are treated to another potent piano solo. Nicola is smiling. He has been smiling a lot during the evening, a pleasure and a rarity to see…
Mystery Of Man - a funkyesque tune which makes Nicola spark even brighter on the night. His guitar solo is a gem.
Zara’s encore, Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child is deep, performed with a pained and expressive voice like only Zara can.
A tight band, an impeccable lead by Signor Conte and before they all leave the stage, Nicola just wishes everyone “love, peace and understanding”. A truly apt message for yet another remarkable gig.
Line up: Nicola Conte - guitar, Magnus Lindgren - sax and flute, Claudio Filippini - piano, Luca Alemanno - double-bass, Teppo Makynen - drums, Abdissa Assefa - percussion, Zara McFarlane - vocals.
Words: Erminia Yardley
Photos: Carl Hyde