And in the UK we have a really excellent singer-pianist in Wendy Kirkland, who brought her quartet to the Cathedral Hotel in Lichfield on Wednesday.
What made the gig even more compelling was the presence of two special guests with the band: vibes player Roger Beaujolais and saxophonist Tommaso Starace. They also perform on her latest album, and since last year Kirkland has been on an extensive UK tour to promote it.
She opened the show with Sunday In New York, a smooth song made famous by the American singer Mel Torme, and there were delightful versions of jazz tunes to which she has added words, among them guitarist Russell Malone’s composition Playground, and French pianist Michel Petrucciani’s oddly titled September 2nd.
She also effectively paid tribute to Diana Krall - a major inspiration to Wendy’s work - by using the Canadian singer-pianist’s arrangement for the jazz standard East Of The Sun. There were real highlights, too, with the tune Pools - from the repertoire of the American band Steps Ahead - and a song made famous by Peggy Lee, I Love Being Here With You.
Apart from Kirkland’s own smooth voice, the instrumental work by the band was hugely impressive - from her own piano soloing, to Beaujolais’ dynamic vibraphone playing, and Starace’s imaginative work on alto and soprano saxophones. Her regular accompanists - her husband Pat Sprakes on guitar, drummer Steve Wyndham and bassist Paul Jeffries - powered the show with a firm rhythmic groove.
The briskly-paced encore piece, the Brazilian song So Danca Samba), based on the chords of the Duke Ellington theme tune Take The A Train, formed a perfect conclusion to a hugely enjoyable performance.
Wendy Kirkland’s tour continues across the UK, including appearances on March 13 at the Bonded Warehouse in Stourbridge and April 3 at Salt Village Hall, near Stafford.
By John Watson