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It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful

Paolo Conte ticketIf the EFG London Jazz Festival were ever required to stand up in a court of law and produce a convincing justification for its existence, it could point to its habit of bringing Paolo Conte to the South Bank on a regular basis. Last night the 80-year-old former lawyer from Asti was greeted with applause so warm and prolonged that it practically stopped the show on several occasions and was brought to an end only when the singer drew a forefinger across his throat to indicate that there was no more to give.

While this most Italian of performers was doing his stuff, his footballing compatriots were failing to qualify for next summer’s World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years. For two hours, at least, the many Italians in the audience at the Festival Hall were spared that pain, and the lasting glow probably eased the subsequent anguish.

The show wasn’t very different in substance from the one I wrote about on his last visit, four years ago. Most of the favourites were there, including “Max”, “Sotto le Stelle del Jazz”, “Gli Impermeabili”, “Come Di”, a hurtling “Diabolo Rosso” and a wonderfully restrained “Alla Presa di Una Verde Milonga”. And, of course, “Via Con Me”, with which even the monoglot English could sing along — “It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, I dream of you…  Chips! Chips! Chips!” — and which reappeared as a coda to the evening.

The arrangements made full use of the versatility of his 10 musicians, switching constantly between a full range of saxophones (sopranino to baritone), clarinet and bassoon, accordion and bandoneon, violin, piano, marimba, drums, hand percussion, all resting on the base provided by three acoustic guitars and Jini Touche’s double bass. The short improvised solos were beautifully positioned, and the endings invariably cunning. The stage lighting, which cast equal illumination on all those playing at any given moment while leaving the rest in shadow, was brilliant.

Conte gave us his irresistible sandpapered croon, his brief vocal imitation of a trombone (his first instrument in childhood), and a snatch of kazoo. I don’t know anyone else who can do what he does, blending archaic forms and sounds — hints of Ellington’s Cotton Club band, chanson, Palm Court glide, tango, Hot Club of France swing, dolce vita and spaghetti western — into a genuinely modern music with such originality, such grace, such dignity.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. MJG #

    It was a truly wonderful evening and this review captures it marvellously.

    I had no idea that Conte had played the trombone;there had to be an explanation for his almost comedic impersonation of one. What a band, the versatility led to an evening-long game of who’s playing what this tune. It seems a shame to highlight individual contributions but the clarinet solo was a wonder of restraint released to exuberance; the accordion player’s taste and verve drove many of the tunes and the rhythm set by the percussion, bass and three guitarists was often too infectious for words.

    The man himself, a true master,conducting from the piano and delivering a vocal masterclass which as an ashamed monoglot Brit didn’t need translation to understand the sentiments behind the songs. The “bravos” that rang out throughout the audience, and throughout the evening, seemed so fitting coming from what appeared to be most of the Italian population of London (and beyond maybe).

    The third time I’ve enjoyed Conte courtesy of the LJF and possibly the best. Let’s hope the Azzuri’s failure didn’t dampen spirits too much for everyone else that enjoyed the evening

    November 14, 2017
  2. GRAHAM ROBERTS #

    Yes, a fabulous concert by Paolo Conte and his wonderful musicians. I witnessed it all from a vantage point in seat A26 of the balcony – and will return there tonight in pretty much the same vicinity to see Abdullah Ibrahim. As the previous correspondent says, ‘what a band’, and what a singer. And am I letting my imagination run wild when I say that one of the sax solos fleetingly made me wonder if the spirit of Clarence Clemons had entered the room? The set list hadn’t changed much from previous concerts but I will never tire of these great songs, and the extended instrumental coda to ‘Max’ could go on forever as far as this listener is concerned! An unforgettable night.

    November 14, 2017

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