New Voice in Town

Showing that Pretoria also has a lot to offer in the mainstream jazz stakes, vocalist ‘Nell’, and ‘The Boulevard Ensemble’ (‘Boulevard’ being the name of her latest album), blew into Johannesburg last month and presented a well-chosen selection of standards to a capacity crowd at the Theatre on The Square in Sandton, with kudos both to impresario Tony Yoko and to Theatre owner Daphne Kuhn for again being willing to showcase this sort of music.

Ably accompanied by fellow musos Christiaan Rabie on guitars, Marcel Denman on piano, Werner Spies on bass, Hugo Radyn on drums and the highly talented and versatile Justin Holcroft on tenor, alto and soprano saxes, Nell –who arranged all the numbers — featured a variety of songs, some with a Latin-American flavour, and a couple of bop favourites, in a carefully rehearsed two hour set which sent the audience away happy and clamouring for more had time allowed.

The lady certainly has her own voice, and romped through the technical difficulties of Charlie Parker’s ‘Confirmation’ (lyrics by either Anthony Proveaux or Eddie Jefferson, but who cares, they’re great anyway) and ‘Twisted’, a cult hit for Annie Ross of Lamberts, Hendriks and Ross fame who wrote the lyrics to the tune by tenor saxophonist Wardell Grey. No slouch at scatting either, Nell’s blend of voice and saxophone was at times reminiscence of Cleo Laine and husband Johnny Dankworth’s incomparable outings.

But it was The Great American Songbook that was the order of day, highlights being ‘Honeysuckle Rose’, ‘The Boy Next Door’, ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘Time after Time’ – and take a bow Nell for singing the verse in most cases. These ears could have done with a little less of ‘the Latin Beat’ and some extended solos from Nell’s more than competent musicians – but those are minor quibbles when reflecting on an all-round ‘feelgood’ experience.

Come back soon Nell, and bring the boys from beyond the boerewors curtain with you! And don’t be afraid to relax and stretch out a bit like Dirk van der Linden and Jean van Lint from Belgium, who were the last musicians Tony brought to town and turned the Theatre – and apparently his wine cellar — inside out.

David Alston