Steve Jordon wrote these thoughts.
On Wednesday last, Zoe Schwarz brought her band, Blue Commotion, to Fleece Jazz. On guitar was Zoe’s long-standing musical partner and husband, Rob Koral. On organ, we had the Fleece regular and audience favourite, Pete Whittaker and on drums the human powerhouse, Paul Robinson.
Before the gig, the music playlist made by our sound tech, Gerry, was playing what I thought to be the growling, other-worldly voice of Howlin’ Wolf singing ‘Spoonful’. I was wrong – it turned out to be a cover version by an artist doing a remarkably close impression of the great man’s voice. Thankfully, we didn’t get any such treatment of blues standards from Zoe and the band; no deferential, paint-by-numbers versions of classic numbers. What we did get were unique interpretations of some blues standards mixed in with a wealth of impressive songs penned by Zoe and Rob, delivered with a crossover of styles, often within individual songs.
The set began with Broken Heart Blues, a mid-tempo number featuring the fluid blues licks of Rob’s guitar, the warm organ grooves from Pete and the hard-driving beat of the drums from Paul. The tempo dropped to a sensual shuffling groove for the next number with Zoe stretching her vocal cords to deliver a throaty growl (think Janis Joplin and Maggie Bell). Before the next song, Zoe explained that Rob was largely responsible for the music while she wrote the lyrics, but recently that division had become blurred. So, no surprises then, that Rob had written My Handsome Man for Zoe to sing. Peter Green’s I Need Your Love So Bad was the first cover and a good example of how there were to be no slavish attempts to copy the delivery of the original artist. This was a fine, tender interpretation from Zoe, replacing the wistful dread of Green’s voice with a more delicate yearning, the pain reflected in Rob’s keening guitar and Pete’s sensual organ breaks. Shades of the fragility and ache so characteristic of Billie Holliday’s voice are also heard from Zoe in I’ll Be Yours Tonight before the tempo picks up again with the rollicking Give Me The Key to Your Heart, driven by the drumming of Paul Robinson. Rob Koral’s Heroes was a slow-burning, mournful blues ballad about missing a lover and beautifully executed by the whole band with each instrument bringing a pleading and yearning to the song’s story. The first set concluded with a famous blues standard: Willie Dixon’s I’m Ready, made famous by Muddy Waters, but here the tempo is faster, yet still with the defiance of the original.
The rocking blues of I Can’t Live Like That opened the second set, an autobiographical account of the advice given to Zoe as she grew up to become a blues singer. She sings the story with feeling and, once again, one is struck by her expressiveness, both in her voice and in her body as she moves around the stage. Brook Benton’s beautiful ballad I’ll Take Care of You brought the tempo down and the heart-breaking lyrics were delivered with feeling. Once again, the tempo is increased to full-pelt, almost countrified rocking with People, quickly followed by the song inspired by the birth of their daughter, Pebble In My Pond. It is a brave move to attempt to re-work a classic from the treasured Billie Holliday, given her unique voice with its manipulation of phrasing and tempo, but Fine and Mellow was a highlight of the evening, not least because Zoe’s delivery brought a different interpretation to the song, a more positive and less resigned approach. Say It Isn’t So was a more up-tempo number, once again showcasing Rob’s deft work on guitar and Pete’s gorgeous organ breaks. The smoky ballad, Don’t Hold Back and the heartfelt, up-tempo Thank You brought the evening to a close, thanking the audience for “coming all this way”. THANK YOU! ZOE and ROB for coming all the way from Poole in Dorset to play at our club and, of course, to Paul and Pete who I believe are slightly more local. But it didn’t end there and we got our much desired encore with Willie Dixon’s scorching I Can’t Quit You Baby, an old favourite of Zoe’s from listening to Led Zeppelin. And I couldn’t hear a trace of Robert Plant’s histrionics in her delivery! Not that I would have minded.
- Broken Heart Blues (Koral/Schwarz)
- If Only I Could Be With You (Koral/Schwarz)
- My Handsome Man (Koral/Schwarz)
- I Need Your Love So Bad (Peter Green)
- I Wonder Who My Next Man Will Be (Koral/Schwarz)
- I’ll Be Yours Tonight (Koral/Schwarz)
- Give Me The Key To Your Heart (Koral/Schwarz)
- Heroes (Koral/Hawker)
- My Baby Told Me So (Koral/Schwarz)
- 10.I’m Ready (Willie Dixon)
* * * * * * *
- 11. I Can’t Live Like That (Koral/Schwarz)
- 12. I’ll Take Care of You (Brook Benton)
- People (Koral/Schwarz)
- Pebble in My Pond (Koral/Schwarz)
- Fine and Mellow (Billie Holliday)
- Sat It Isn’t So (Koral/Schwarz)
- Don’t Hold Back (Koral/Schwarz)
- Thank You (Koral/Schwarz)
ENCORE: I Can’t Quit You Baby (Willie Dixon)