The exceptional versatility and artistry of Alison Jiear at St James Studio. My review
“…varied mix of styles.. easy relaxed relationship with..audience.. infectious sense of fun and sauciness”
The title of the show Under the Influence refers to the many musical influences in her life as Australian born artist Alison Jiear grew up in the 1970s. Her mother listened to singers Engelbert Humperdinck and Des O’Connor, whilst her father introduced her to classical and jazz music, all at a time when ‘60’s and ‘70’s pop surrounded her in popular culture.
Blessed with a huge voice honed by excellent vocal and musical training, it is little wonder that she has developed an eclectic all-embracing repertoire.
It was the big voice numbers, most notably from the Aretha Franklin medley that really roused the audience at St James Studio to the loudest cheers, and fabulous though this section was, it was her soulful reflective numbers that were truly magical.
Popular classics such as “At Seventeen” and her down-tempo rendition of “I Only Want To Be With You” were given unique interpretation where the lyrics struck the listener anew. Likewise, Jiear’s crescendo into belt in Ann Hampton Callaway’s wonderful “Never Really Mine to Lose” stems from soul-bearing intensity, rather than contrived display of vocal prowess.
A gifted jazz vocal musician, Jiear avoids the temptation to close her eyes and jam with her superb 4-piece rhythm section at the expense of audience connection. She employed several jazz rhythms including a couple of up-tempo swing numbers, samba (rendered hysterically flat in “One Note Samba”) and a seductive bluesy “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”.
Her extraordinary MD Dave Arch, also the MD of TV’s Strictly Come Dancing, occasionally accompanied her solo on piano with sensitivity and delicacy or gusto, as required.
The varied mix of styles, punctuated by the occasional comic item, is well balanced, and the narrative effectively knit together by her easy relaxed relationship with her audience, spiked by her infectious sense of fun and sauciness. The Tampax advert had us in stitches.
In recent years, Jiear’s father became seriously ill and whilst waiting for a flight home to become available, she sang a CD of hymns for him. The circumstance of this tragedy led to a period of personal and spiritual growth, prompting her to work on an inspirational album with American Christian vocalist David Phelps, which features the achingly heartfelt re-working of “Papa Can you Hear Me?” in a medley with gospel hymn “His Eye is On the Sparrow”. No-one could fail to be moved.
And yet, I felt she saved the best till last with “Both Sides Now”, which left her at her most exposed emotionally. And she was brave enough to end with that.
For versatility matched by pure artistry, Alison Jiear is one of the best around.