Saturday, 3 May 2014

MUSIC REVIEW: Dana Masters

The South Carolina born singer links up with Linley Hamilton for an electric and eclectic show of soul at the City Of Derry Jazz & Big Band Festival

"The more you drink, the better we sound", says top notch trumpeteer Linley Hamilton before he joins pianist Scott Flanagan, double bassist Ken Murphy and drummer Markus Strothman for this Playhouse showpiece in this year's City Of Derry Jazz & Big Band Festival Calendar. It's typical of one of Northern Ireland's best musicians, I suppose, to play himself down for fear of not playing up to his usual high standards, but his comment ties in neatly with his humorous humility. The power, versatility and adaptability in the Bangor man's performances has resonated long and loud over the years, and will continue to do so tonight in tandem with South Carolina-born, Lisburn-based soulstress Dana Masters.

What Masters, Hamilton and the ensemble offer on the night is a show defined by beats of the rhythm and the heart. Theirs is the expression of musical emotion not through sullen lyrics, but through electric and eclectic brass, keys, percussion and vocals. Masters masters the stage is a sometimes high-key, sometimes low-key but never off-key manner, filling her numbers not with self-pitying sentiment but elements of redemptive power that resurrect every single finger-clicking, foot-tapping, hand-clapping spirit in the packed Playhouse audience. Highlights include a poignant, intense and reflective rendition of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile", the heartfelt, personal "Georgia", and a strong and true performance of Etta James' "At Last" that has Hamilton, Strothman and surely the crowd nodding at each other in silent amazement.

Masters channels not only Etta James but also Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, her powerful pitch seeping under your skin, her passion gently melting the heart. Each song, too, is selflessly structured so that every single one of the performers on stage shines. One need not overanalyze this music - one can gain so much more just by surrendering to its effect. By the time Masters, Hamilton and company sign out with the genuinely joyous encore of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies", one cannot help but look forward to what this extremely gifted ensemble will do next. Personally, I'd love to see Masters take on Aretha Franklin.

The City Of Derry Jazz And Big Band Festival 2014 runs citywide until Monday May 5. For more information, visit the official website.