Back in 1968 producer Lewis Merenstein’s love of jazz meant that bassist Richard Davis (who worked with Eric Dolphy), guitarist Jay Berliner and drummer Connie Kay (the last two had been involved with the Modern Jazz Quartet as well) gave a pivotal spin to the album that is now considered “Astral Weeks” which also meant a more defined change in direction for the Northern Irish singer and musician Van Morrison.
Fast-forward 50 years and vibes magician, composer and improv master Orphy Robinson MBE gave his own rendition of the famous album at Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival recently. With a great attendance, the concert was a complete sellout, Robinson and his band, played the album with a short break in between to allow “to turn the record over”!
With an honest admission of having got closer to the album in the last 2 years, Robinson introduced the first track, “Astral Weeks” backed by a potent army of talented musicians and singers behind him.
Not once I spotted a distracted face, but instead, a happy and totally immersed audience going along anywhere Robinson and his band wanted to take them.
It is important to mention that with such a line-up present on the night, there was no room for doubting, on the contrary, every single musician and singer on the stage added a crucial part to the marvellous tapestry as painted by Orphy Robinson.
Joe Cang, for example, shifting from deep to tender falsettos throughout the various songs as well as the strong voice of Sarah Jane Morris, gracing the stage with a beautiful fuchsia coloured gown.
Amongst the solos on the night, it was fantastic to witness first-class ones by flutist Rowland Sutherland and guitarist Tony Remy. Their precision and accentuation fell on the superb.
And talking about superb, this writer highlights one of the most striking voices around at the moment, that of Sahra Gure who effortlessly moved from high to low notes and scatting. My heroine of the night though was Zara McFarlane: she performed with angelic poise, every time she sang, whether together with the others or solo, hers was the room and every time she managed to move me.
I believe “Astral Weeks” is an album that should be explored by many more. On the occasion of the London Jazz Festival, it proved to be the perfect work to be picked by Maestro Robinson: a unique interpretation, true and passionate in one.
Line-up: Sarah Jane Morris – Vocalist; Joe Cang – Vocalist; Zara McFarlane – Vocalist; Sahra Gure – Vocalist; Dudley Phillips – Bass; Kate Short – Cello; Rowland Sutherland – Flute; Justina Curtis – Piano/ Keys; Mo Nazam – Acoustic guitar; Tony Remy – Electric guitar; Katie Patterson – Drums
Artists website: Orphy Robinson
Writer: Erminia Yardley
Photo credit: (please note all images are from artist sound check prior to main performance) – Carl Hyde Photography
Last modified: November 29, 2018