The seemingly never-ending cycle of lockdowns were tough on everyone, but none more so than artists who performed for a living. As a music fan, it was heart-warming to see the way in which different musicians responded to this. Some focused on new albums, or even remix albums. Others took the opportunity to broaden their skill-set; Kim Cypher and husband Mike started a weekly coffee morning, Robin Phillips launched his own radio show, whilst Fiona Ross started a major new media initiative, Women In Jazz Media.
Wendy Kirkland, a rising star on the British jazz scene, started a series of daily online performances through Facebook, with husband and guitarist Pat Sprakes, entitled Latin Lockdowns, which showcased their mutual love of Latin music. As lockdown followed lockdown, this initiative took on a life of its own, with the duo eventually performing close to 100 pieces, none of which were ever repeated. Since then, the performances have been uploaded to YouTube, where they have now had more than one million views. That’s some achievement!
As things finally opened up, as autumn leaves started to fall, Wendy and Pat arranged a brief tour, putting together a fine band, which features the amazing Roger Beaujolais on vibraphone, Wayne Matthews on bass guitar, Steve Wyndham on drums and Jan Richmond on percussion. The resulting live album, Latin Lowdown Live, captures the band live at Chesterfield Jazz Club on 28 November, 2021.
The album not only showcases Wendy’s skills as a pianist and singers, but also shines a light on some lesser-known tunes in the genre. The delightfully named Joe Beam, is a fine instrumental composed by Roger Beaujolais, and gets the album off to a rousing start. It features a fine solo by the composer himself, who then hands over to pianist and bandleader Wedny Kirkland.
I had not previously heard His Smile, which was composed by trumpet player and singer, Till Bronner, and appears on his 2016 album, The Good Life. It’s a gorgeous tune and lyric, and Kirkland sticks quite closely to the original – just changing the title from the original, which was Her Smile.
Sambolero was composed by Joao Donato, one of the original Brazilian greats, and has also been recorded by Dave Pike. This version features a lovely vocal by Wendy Kirkland, whose voice really suits the song.
George Benson’s El Mar featured on his landmark album, White Rabbit, but is stripped back to its basics here, which works well. Who Loves You, by Ivan Lins, is another favourite, from an artist that deserves more recognition over here.
Finally, a shout out to guitarist Pat Sprakes, who contributes two instrumentals of is own. Both are good, and hold their own here, but I particularly enjoyed Fairway Blues, which is a great tune.
Lowdown Live is proof that some good came out of all of this; some great music, that started life in Wendy’s living room, but is now being heard by hundreds of thousands of people. Highly recommended.