Emma Pask

Emma Pask - photo by Kurt SneddonHer talent was first spotted by multi- instrumentalist James Morrison during one of his regular high schools visits when she was just 16 years old, Emma Pask sang with the Morrison band that very night and went on to collaborate with Morrison for the next twenty years building up a reputation, both nationally and internationally, as one the country’s finest jazz singers.

Pask reached a much wider audience, however, in 2013 when as a contestant in the second series of the television talent show, The Voice, her version of the Sergio Mendes samba, Mas Que Nada so impressed International judge, Ricky Martin that he offered to feature her on his next album. An offer which never materialised.

For her concert at The Street Theatre, Pask performed a program which ranged through familiar jazz classics like Smack, Dab in the Middle, Honeysuckle Rose, Hard Hearted Hanna and Get Out of Town which allowed her opportunity to display her impressive command of jazz vocal dynamics, impeccable intonation, and vocal scatting improvisations.

She included a thrilling extended version of Mas Que Nada, sung in Portuguese, as well as a masterful interpretation of Cuban writer, Osvaldo Farres’ popular Quizas, Quizas, Quizas, which Doris Day made famous as Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps. She also dazzled with her perfect diction in the tongue-twisting novelty, Crickets Sing for Anamaria which Marcus Valle wrote with his brother, Paulo.

Sprinkled among the up-tempo offerings were several exquisitely performed ballads including the Lennon/McCartney classic, Here, There and Everywhere, Irene Kitchings lovely, Some Other Spring, and Carmen McRae’s Dream of Life for which Kevin Hunt provided a hauntingly beautiful accompaniment on piano.

A request from an audience member was obliged with a swinging account of Lerner and Lowe’s Wouldn’t It be Lovely for which her backing musicians delighted by providing a spontaneous, and rather brilliant, improvised accompaniment.

But then when those musicians are Kevin Hunt on piano, Jonathan Zwartz on double bass, and Tim Firth on percussion, would you expect anything less? Their beautifully crafted, impeccably played accompaniments were sheer delight. So also was the elegantly presented Street Theatre stage, with its tastefully dappled lighting, and excellent sound creating an ambiance which added immeasurably to the enjoyment of this concert.

Emma Pask is at the height of her powers as a singer, with the ability to quickly establish an easy rapport with her fellow artists and her audience with her open, sunny disposition and delightful smile. Her vocal brilliance is obvious, so it was surprising  that she didn’t appear to have devoted similar attention to finessing her stagecraft.

Too often the professionalism of her performance was compromised by her tendency to turn her back on her audience to instruct her musicians. Surely the set list should be decided before coming on stage. Was it really necessary to count in the band, when the musical director is one of the best accompanists in the business? That’s his job. Too much time was wasted on vacuous connecting dialogue that was often repetitive and uninformative. This time would have been better utilised by offering more songs. After all that is what the audience has paid to hear. Pask is too good a performer to allow her performance to be tarnished by tardy stagecraft.

Emma Pask
The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Friday 31 March 2017 – 8.00pm
Information: www.thestreet.org.au

For more information, visit: www.emmapask.com for details.

Image: Emma Pask – photo by Kurt Sneddon

Review: Bill Stephens OAM