Jessica Radcliffe poised an poetic for Remembrance at Pizza Express

In this centenary year of the end of the First World War, a project addressing the horrors of the conflict as well as literary responses to it is welcome. Vocalist Jessica Radcliffe handles the subject artfully on her debut Remembrance and this sold-out performance, on the back of good radio play and press, makes it clear that her interpretation has struck something of a chord. Backed by a band that includes her Trinity alumnus Sam James on piano as well as two of its current esteemed staffers, saxophonist Mark Lockheart and trumpeter trumpeter Laura Jurd, Radcliffe has notable poise for a twenty-something tackling a not insubstantial theme.

The presence of the horn players, lending a wealth of experience to the ensemble, is a considerable bonus, but Radcliffe and the rhythm section acquit themselves very well, moving through original songs that have a lithe, slightly Methenyesque finesse to them, well-wrought swing bolstered by scat vocal, and bursts of lively Music hall.

Radcliffe’s adaptations of poetry from Laurence Binyon and Wilfred Owen are impressive but occasionally she struggles a touch with the alternation of spoken word passages and sung verses, with ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ needing more distillation and breathing space to do justice to the weight of the text. Bringing material with such gravitas to life requires a certain amount of role-play that is by no means easy to sustain, and she has to find exactly the right moments of emphasis for these very involving narratives. Which she does strikingly on ‘Jack Jack’, an arrangement of a letter written to private on the western front by his sweetheart, which vividly conveys all the breathless urgency of love unfolding in the most extreme circumstances. The sharp clicking of drummer Will Glaser’s rimshots and steady prodding of Joe Downard’s bass enhance the sense of a clock ticking towards a tragic conclusion.

Throughout the evening Radcliffe crystalline tone combines effectively with the unison lines and solos of her musicians, making it clear that she is on an exciting road in her development. Her tour next year should offer further confirmation of that.

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photo by Emma Perry

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