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Ian Shaw With The Phil Ware Trio at The Workmans Club

Ian Patterson By

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Shaw is rightly considered by many as one of the greatest male jazz vocalists of this or possibly any other era.
Ian Shaw With The Phil Ware Trio
The Workmans Club
Dublin, Ireland
January 21, 2017

A full house at The Workmans Club for Ian Shaw with the Phil Ware Trio was a heartening sight. Anything less, however, would have been disappointing, for Shaw is rightly considered by many as one of the greatest male jazz vocalists of this or possibly any other era. If he couldn't draw a decent crowd then jazz would really be in trouble.

Over the course of the past twenty five years or so, Shaw has collaborated with notable pianists including Abdullah Ibrahim, Cedar Walton, Billy Childs and Barry Green. Arguably, however, the English-born, Dublin-based pianist Ware has proven Shaw's most simpatico partner on the keys on and off over fifteen years.

Ware, along with Dave Redmond and Kevin Brady, have been fine ambassadors in Ireland for the art of the jazz piano trio for a similar length of time and have played with Shaw nearly every year since a gig at the Galway Jazz Festival 2006. Not surprisingly, the empathetic play between all four musicians was evident from the first swinging bars of Burton Lane/E.Y. Harburg's "Old Devil Moon."

Shaw's uncommon rhythmic elasticity, his playful transport of the lyrics and his feel for the emotional contours of the music on that 1940's standard, and likewise on Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Mercer's "I Thought About You"—a tune of similar vintage—made the well-worn sound refreshingly contemporary. On the latter, Ware's bouyant, flowing intervention preceded a typically idiosyncratic Shaw scat, with brisk, vibrant punctuation from Brady. Shaw's hypnotic delivery on the torch song "What's New?," colored by subtle trio shading, held a little of the sort of magic that Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae brought to this Bob Haggart/Johnny Burke classic.

Popular tunes from the 1930s and 1940s were interspersed with popular tunes from the 1960s, 1970s and beyond: A reimagined, soul-jazz version of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" bled—via a short but arresting vocalese—into Norah Jones' "Peace," a touching ballad featuring gently sculpted solos from Redmond and Ware. Throughout the evening solo time was liberally shared around, Ware's trio striking a delicate balance between nuanced comping and tearing loose.

A wildly entertaining Shaw scat, with a faux sneeze sewn into the seams, served as an introduction to an up-tempo, swinging version of "Lullaby of the Leaves," with Redmond's fast-walking bass and Brady's ride cymbal-cum snappy snare rhythm driving Ware's animated improvisation. Shaw's vocal improvisations, marked by audacious liberties with form and timing, were akin to watching a clown traversing a high wire as he leapt registers, drawled notes woozily, wobbled comically, and then skipped breathlessly along with the fluidity of a fired-up bebop trumpeter.

Seemingly flirting with the abyss time and again, Shaw always pulled himself back with perfect, often razor sharp comic timing—following his entertainingly artful excursion to the other side. His idiom may not have been for the purists but his originality—essentially daring—was undeniable.

One such marathon scat, interrupted with the aside "It's so tiring" to much laughter, saw Shaw provoke Redmond with a call-and-response series of ever faster cadenzas, a task that the impeccable Redmond was more than equal too.

The first set concluded with Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman," a staple of Shaw's shows. His vocal, in turn caressing and epic, conveyed the unique quality of a songwriter who is still the only artist ever to have received a Grammy for music, lyrics and orchestration.

Arthur Altman/Jack Lawrence' "All or Nothing at All" felt, except for a notable intervention from Redmond, a little processional. More satisfying were swinging versions of Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley's "Who Can I Turn To?," and Cole Porter's "Get Out of Town," the latter featuring a delightful, blues-laced solo from Ware. "Where are We Now?" was Shaw's moving tribute to the late David Bowie, with whom Shaw worked as a backing singer on numerous occasions. Shaw's heart-felt, largely unadorned interpretation of one of Bowie's latter day gems, framed by spare trio accompaniment, provided a set highlight.

A tender, soulful rendition of Burt Bacharach/Hal David's "Alfie" was followed by a swing-tempo take on Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love." The encore, "My Brother," from Shaw's latest CD, The Theory of Joy (Jazz Village, 2016) was dedicated to "everyone that is escaping war;" the spare arrangement and heart-tugging melody of a song inspired by the dreadful plight of millions, could almost have come from Billy Joel's finest brand of balladry, and rounded out the concert on an intimate, gently thought-provoking note.

But for the venue curfew, the audience would have happily lapped up another generous dose of Shaw, Ware, Redmond and Brady. Still, there were no complaints. Two hours of thrills, spills, comedy and high art of undeniable emotive impact made for an abundant offering. A live album somewhere down the line would seem a worthy document. Until then, catch this joyous quartet if you possibly can.
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