Live Review: Elisa Caleb Quintet at The Vortex, London

What better way to take the edge off a cold Monday night in winter than in the company of jazz vocalist Elisa Caleb and her impressive quintet?  Those were my thoughts whilst sat ensconced in the candlelit intimacy of the Vortex Jazz Bar last Monday as the lovely Mrs Caleb and band took to the stage. Elisa’s unadulterated jazz and blues offerings make for a refreshing change to the many Beyoncé-wannabes currently cluttering the R&B/Pop stable.

And if you are expecting just another evening of standards and covers, think again.  The majority of Elisa’s set is comprised of original material written by her husband, guitarist Jo Caleb.  These sophisticated and intelligent compositions – with just a little feel for Norah Jones – are the perfect vehicle for the warm, honeyed vocals of his missus.

Songs such as starkly arranged ‘The Wind’, ‘Bring Back Spring’, ‘Falling Towers’ and the wonderfully enchanting bossa nova number ‘Untitled no.1’ showcase the pure attraction of Elisa’s voice.  One would hardly believe that the songstress didn’t even consider herself a singer well into young adulthood; she’s certainly made up for lost time.

Her banter between tracks is delivered in the same soft, easy transatlantic tones with which she sings.  On ‘Say Goodbye’ Elisa even treated the audience to a brief harmonica solo that, in spite of her self-deprecation regarding her ability, got a positive reception from those in attendance. Caleb’s vocals are supported very well by her highly accomplished quintet, with guitarist Dave Preston and pianist Ivo Neame in particular giving standout performances on the night.

Elisa does throw in some covers for good measure such as ‘The Surrey With The Fringe On Top’ from the musical ‘Oklahoma!’, the oft-recorded ‘Autumn Leaves’ before ending the set with Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’.  The latter two are especially solid examples of Elisa and band’s laudable interpretation skills.  ‘Autumn Leaves’ is given the up tempo treatment which, rather than trivialising the melancholy nature of the song, lends the popular standard a jauntiness that enables one to appreciate it in a different way.

The uninvitingly low temperatures outside prevented the Vortex Club from being packed out for the gig, which was a shame.   However, judging by the enthused reaction from all who did attend and as Elisa continues to win the hearts of the London jazz fraternity, it won’t be long before audiences readily brave all kinds of weather conditions to see this very classy lady and her quintet in action.

–Tola Ositelu

Band Line-up:

Lead vocals – Elisa Caleb
Piano – Ivo Neame
Guitar – Dave Preston
Double Bass – Karl Rashid
Drums – Dave Hamblett
BVs – Ayesha Ahmed

Elisa Caleb online: | @SweetMelodyGirl | MySpace | Facebook