The EFG London Jazz Festival may have celebrated its 21st birthday last year, but as if to prove it has truly come of age – and lost none of its spark – the opening weekend of the 22nd edition positively swaggered and swung with joyful jazz noises everywhere across the capital.
If proof were needed of this all-encompassing event's diversity and pulling power then opening vocal gala Jazz Voice got off to a flying start with top US vocalist Kurt Elling delivering a typically punchy 'Stepping Out'. With his rich tenor resonating against the 40-piece orchestra-cum-big band, Elling's bravura technique saw him scat soloing with abandon – a half-concealed grin bearing witness to the fun he seemed to be having dueling with conductor/arranger Guy Barker's bristling score.
Jazz Voice is something of a 'taster' for the less jazz inclined listeners, and as such welcomes voices from soul, blues and pop to join the party – tonight including Basement Jaxx session soulstress Vula Malinga and rising soul-boy Jacob Banks – yet this was also a great showcase for young jazz singer Emma Smith whose time has surely come to move from rising to established name, performing a wonderfully restrained take on 'Dance Me To The End of Love'. Jacqui Dankworth was equally mesmeric with a truly heartfelt performance of the Charlie Chaplin classic 'Smile', turning this all too mawkish melody into something deeply special, while Georgie Fame and Elling had fun with Cab Calloway's 'Mini the Moocher'.
Other highlights included Barker's masterful Blue Note medley that began the second half, to mark the label's 75th anniversary this year, while Natalie Williams and the brilliant Dee Dee Bridgewater demonstrated that today's vocal scene has both youth and experience in abundance.