Julia Messenger has a jazz style all of her own, her recent performance at the Melbourne Recital Centre felt like a turning of the tide – with a coolness and as some remarked ‘a bent to the avant-garde’, she showed a virtuosity and style that can’t be ignored.
Perhaps it comes with age, that indefinable quality that younger singers strive for but never quite reach the centre of. There’s no doubt Julia, like a good red, is in her best years now, whatever troubles have touched her life through the decades she’s now turning that to exquisite vulnerability. I was moved and it was clear that the entire sold out audience were too.
Things began simply enough with Black Magic although it was clear that there were going to be some complicated versions of songs in this short concert. With a charming chat to the audience and an explanation of The American Songbook, The Masquerade is Over immediately launched us into the depths of Julia’s emotional range and we buckled in for what promised to be quite a musical ride.
The Song is You with a stunning piano solo by Mark Fitzgibbon was followed by Put a Spell on You where Julia’s extraordinary vocal control became more apparent. This is a malleable voice with a large range that can slide into many different styles easily, her classical and pop background are evident but never overwhelming.
Ben Robertson on bass started Them There Eyes and we could have happily listened to this cheeky introduction for a few minutes more, then followed an informative introduction to Lush Life which was the highlight of the show for me.
Julia’s arrangement of My Man’s Gone Now was nothing short of stunning. This is a hybrid arrangement that melds the famous jazz versions with the original high classical version. I like to think Gershwin would have loved it. Heart of Glass featured James Sherlock on guitar, he’d been right beside Julia all night and his empathy and fine playing shone through on this song.
I Shall be Released shook the tree and threw in a whole new sound which the audience enjoyed, then followed Messenger’s now famous version of Miss Otis Regrets. I’ve heard Julia sing this a few times over the years and I can hand on heart say this song is getting better and better. I heard an old lady come up to Julia at the end of the concert, and said she liked Julia’s version better than Ella’s. It was seriously good.
Out of this World followed, in a very appealing and groovy 7/8 which threw Darryn Farrugia on drums happily into the spotlight. Stormy Monday finished the concert, with an audience demanded encore of Angel Eyes.
Julia Messenger has had an active music life in Europe, and has already been booked by the Melbourne Recital Centre for a follow up concert next year – may I suggest you keep an eye and ear out for this artist, as she steps into a new era of her career.
Julia Messenger Quintet
Salon – Melbourne Recital Centre, Corner Southbank Boulevard and Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Friday 20 October 2017
Julia Messenger will present I Put A Spell On You – presented as part of the Jazz in the Salon series at the Melbourne Recital Centre in September 2018. For more information, visit: www.juliamessenger.com for details.
Image: Julia Messenger (supplied)
Review: Shaula Salathé