Sarah Jane Morris Band captivates Muscat fans

TEXT BY GEORGINA BENISON
PHOTOS BY KHALID AL BUSAIDI

Famed for her soul-driven sound, British Jazz singer, Sarah Jane Morris came to Muscat with her 9-piece all-star band for a one-off concert at the Royal Opera House last week.
Sarah first came to the attention of music lovers in the mid-80s when she joined the Communards, with the iconic falsetto voice of Jimmy Summerville.
The 90-minute set on Sunday evening did indeed end with the Gambles/Huff collaboration, “Don’t Leave me this Way” which hit no. 1 in the British charts in 1998 and became the best selling single of the year.
The arrangement here created an almost Big Band sound, with the jazz-soul feel of Sarah Jane’s lead vocals and featured solos from her two backing singers. Young Lilybud Dearsley gave a raunchy gospel-Blues improvisation to shine at the end of the show, while Sarah Jane’s son, Otis Coulter normally providing bass vocals, gave an impression of a young Jimmy Summerville in his spotlight from another era.
Morris has always been a performer with protest, carrying social messages since her participation in the Brechtian “Happy End” band of the 80s until now in her own current albums. In Muscat, what marked her clearly unique stage presence was the sincerity of her work and the genuine bond with her fellow musicians. She opened the programme with her incredibly low dulcet tones in Damien Rice’s standard Jazz-Rock, “Blower’s Daughter” with plenty of reverb to accentuate her sultry vocal quality.
No one knew quite what to expect as she was a fairly unknown quantity to expats in Muscat, but she received growing enthusiasm throughout the performance from a curious, discerning public.
She took time to speak to the audience, share personal anecdotes and explain the contexts of each song.
The beautiful arrangement of Sting’s, ‘Fragile’, composed in memoriam John Lennon, began with a stunning guitar solo from Morris’s long-time song-writing partner, British acoustic guitarist extraordinaire, Tony Remy, who soloed in nearly every number and never failed to deliver. It also featured a lovely soprano saxophone line from New York-born Michael Rosen, who now resides in Rome.
Sarah Jane’s diction in her singing is so clear every word can be heard – often more than in the original of her memorable covers – for emphasis of the message.
‘Feel The Love’ is a collaboration with her experienced composer-drummer, Martyn Barker, for her recent African-influenced Album, ‘Bloody Rain’. It featured solos from one of the best session trumpeters on the British music scene, John Eacott, along with Rosen on tenor sax and rhythmic backing vocals.
The poignant, evocative mood in ‘On My Way to You’, composed by Sarah, guitarist Tony Remy, and Johnny Brown, was performed as a tender guitar trio, with Tim Cansfield.
The full band’s forthcoming recording project, ‘Sweet Little Mystery’, is a “tribute to the sublime genius and innovative musical talent of John Martyn”, guitar legend. Martyn’s ‘Couldn’t Love you More’ was treated as a touching Rock-ballad with some smooth-jazz trumpet solos from John Eacott.
Sarah Jane Morris’ cover of Jerry Ragovoy’s 1960s, ‘Piece Of My Heart’, Janice Joplin’s signature song, opened with a West Indian chant from guitarist Tim Cansfield and was played by the whole ensemble in a reggae-calypso style. Tim was born in Trinidad 67 years ago, but grew up in Britain and is a self-taught, professional guitarist with an impressive collaborative recording legacy.
In contrast came another, as yet unheard track from the forthcoming album. John Martin’s, “Call Me” was evoked by a brightly bespectacled Sarah, matching her red Queen Elizabeth 1st pastiche dress, and delightful wind solos. Even more intimate was the duo arrangement, with Remy’s acoustic solo guitar accompaniment, of Tracey Chapman’s “Fast Car”, which received well-deserved rousing applause.
Revisiting the African album, ‘Bloody Rain’, Remy-Morris’s “Across the Desert of Love”, opened with a resonating trumpet solo from Eacott infused with South African melodies and rhythms, and allowed a heated dialogue between Martin Barker and Brazilian percussionist, Adriano Adewale, to take centre stage. Still in South Africa with the Soweto Gospel Choir, Sarah Jane’s arrangement of Hugh Masekela’s dark story of ‘Coal Train’ opened with some tight a Capella vocals which expanded to full band, with great timing on the tricky rhythms. After a visit to Dylan’s protest song, “I shall be released”, the Morris/Barker composition, ‘I get High’ came in a deliciously jazz-funk style.
It rejoiced with an extended solo from Michael Rosen, one of the best soprano saxophonists worldwide and praised as, “a composer and musician of vast ability”. The encore celebrated a positive mood after the destruction of the Vietnamese war – as any war – over Tony Remy’s guitar riff and solo from Acoustic Bass guitarist, the inimitable Henry Thomas, who is regarded as a leading exponent of electric bass in the UK in many musical genres. “I only want to know about Love” left a lasting message as its extended format enabled the audience to participate, singing that evil will be forgotten, as they filed out of the hall into the noticeably peaceful Omani night.