LJF 2018: Joanna Eden

Leon Nock at Cadogan Hall enjoyed an evening of interpretations of Stephen Sondheim that left the audience hungry for more

With the London Jazz Festival exactly at the halfway stage they stood in line for the thick end of an hour on the coldest day of the year (and miserable and raining to boot) to see Joanna Eden & the George Double Trio's take on Stephen Sondheim, 20 October.

Joanna accompanied her vocals on piano so that ostensibly there were four musicians on the stand but as it transpired drummer George Double and bassist Russell Swift were only there to give Gareth Hunt a tight four so that despite being as accomplished as anyone working in London they failed to draw even a two-bar break between them in two sets. Hunt on the other hand had solos on ukulele, guitar, reeds, and would probably have been happy to weigh in on kazoo if necessary.

Eden has a nice line in gimmicks which is effective only if you haven’t seen it before. She allows the band to vamp and dashes on, breathless, still in street clothes and takes up the chorus without missing a beat; the opening number, Broadway Baby, from Follies is, of course, tailor made for this kind of quirkiness and, for a topper, she takes her place at the 88 and shouts "I play piano, too". As ice-breakers go it’s up there with the Arctic Line's "A" team. Having picked them up by the scruff of the neck she never relaxes her grip on the audience for even a grace note, not as easy as it looks given that Sondheim is not exactly Five Easy Pieces. Not many singers would follow a crowd-pleaser like Broadway Baby with Ev’rybody Says Don’t, for example, in fact many singers would omit it completely but Eden knows just what she is about and pulls it off to a fare-thee-well. In fact, for every easily accessible number – Losing My Mind, Send In The Clowns – she’ll throw in a Pretty Woman for ballast.

If anything, the gig could have done with being a tad – say two or three numbers – longer but against that the "always leave them wanting more" factor needs to be weighed and I can personally vouch for the fact that the audience went home hungry, one of the best indicators there is.

Eden is not, of course, the first vocalist to play an instrument, one need think only of Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Blossom Dearie, and, closer to our own times, Daryl Sherman, but Eden’s are serious chops and she’s well worth a visit should she be playing near you.

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