There was an audible collective intake of breath among the capacity audience when, towards the end of the first set by Melbourne ensemble Movement 9, saxophonist Joe McEvilly announced that “we’re not gonna talk about Amy Winehouse or the gossip. This show is about the music”.
Fine! But for those, not overly familiar with the songs of Winehouse – the brilliant but self-destructive English singer who died from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27 – but attracted to this concert by the possibility of extending their appreciation of her work, some context about Winehouse and the significance of those of her songs included in this show, may have been welcomed.
Especially given the absence of programs which hopefully would have contained this information and perhaps the names of the nine talented members of Movement 9, who remained largely anonymous until the final unintelligible call-out, when it was revealed that several are graduates of the Canberra School of Music. As it was, Winehouse’s songs were represented in new arrangements by McEvilly, often without the titles being announced beforehand.
When an artist’s notoriety is used to attract an audience it creates an expectation that there will be some attempt to at least capture the essence of what was unique about that artist in the resultant performance. For this show, Elly Poletti was the vocalist tasked of representing Winehouse.
Although she may well be an award-winning vocalist in her own right, there was nothing about Poletti’s dress or demeanour that suggested anything of Winehouse’s appearance or performance style. Poletti can certainly sing loudly, and occasionally softly, but she also exhibited an alarming absence of stagecraft.
She seemed intent on avoiding engagement with her audience, keeping her eyes downcast during the songs, and surprisingly, reading most of the lyrics from a music stand. On several occasions she turned her back on the audience, ignoring their applause. Her interest seemed directed towards demonstrating her ability to produce jazz vocalisations rather than seriously exploring the pain-wracked lyrics of Winehouse.
The program contained a generous selection of the Winehouse repertoire. Back to Black, October Song, What is it About Men, and Valerie were all represented in captivating arrangements by McEvilly, impressively performed by the band. Within these arrangements McEvilly has provided generous opportunities to showcase the talents of each of his musicians.
A Tubular Bells-type introduction introduced a fine version of You Know I’m Not Good. I Heard Love is Blind showcased the excellent trombone playing of Patrick Landon, while Love is a Losing Game was introduced with a repeated delicate single piano note from John Trigg.
But without context, and with so little attention devoted to presentation, a certain monotony crept in so that it was hard to escape the feeling that one might be better served by listening to the CD which was available for purchase after the show.
Movement 9 is an attractive, talented outfit which has obviously spent a lot of time perfecting John McEvilly’s excellent arrangements. While their current style of presentation may work for festival stages, it certainly does them no favours in the more formal atmosphere of a theatre. Some time spent with a good director to work on perfecting presentation skills would be a worthwhile investment.
We May Never Meet Again: The Music of Amy Winehouse
The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Friday 12 February 2016
For more information, and tour dates, visit: www.movement9.com for details.
Image: Elly Poletti (supplied)
Review: Bill Stephens