Music: James Morrison with Special Guests Megan Washington and Marian Petrescu – The Festival Theatre – 4K

By Tom Eckert


It is always dangerous to perform small group jazz to an audience of thousands in a hall more suited to Don Giovanni than Duke Ellington. But somehow, through clever sound engineering or force of sheer virtuosity, this quintet with the indomitable James Morrison at its head manage it comfortably and in fine form.

Wasting no time for showing off what they can do, even before the welcoming applause had died out, Marian Petrescu had pitched a fans whistle on his keys and gone straight into a scorching run. This set the scene for the evening with raw ability practically bursting from the seams of each and every person on stage.

A very charming moment was the discovery of the history between Washington and Morrison where, in the inception of her career, Washington had competed in the annual vocalist competition at Generations in Jazz and was, at least as far as the story goes, instantly identified for her talent. A talent she put to good use this evening. Washington’s involvement is, I feel, a part of a positive trend of contemporising jazz and making it more accessible. Whilst Washington obviously has a jazz background, her current style is quintessentially contemporary. Her application of her personal style to old standards serves the purpose of closing the gap between the rich, long history of jazz and our modern iteration of popular music. It warmed my heart to hear that even her name on the bill stirred a consideration to go in company that didn’t know their trumpet from their Taylor Swift.

The style bending however wasn’t limited to Washington. Petrescu seemed to take great pleasure in demonstrating his exquisite technique and razor musical brain with a particular highlight being playing Duke Ellington’s Caravan in the style of Rachmaninoff. Classically trained from behind the Iron Curtains we hear tell of a young Marian’s first encounter with jazz in the form of an Oscar Peterson record. Blown away by the Canadian player’s technique and speed he applied himself to learning every chart note for note and nailed it, only occasionally surprised how he only ever seemed to play in the upper register. It wasn’t until later that he realized he’d been playing his LP on a record player stuck on 45 RPM. The technique that allowed him to match a Mach-speed Peterson note for note is evidenced here with mind-bendingly rapid licks and riffs seeming at times, if you were watching carefully, to be more of a vehicle for two disembodied hands and ten disembodied fingers as they raced deftly across the keys. A veritable jukebox, all you need to do is mention a name and he’s away playing their best works from Mozart to Liszt, it’s all there at his fingertips.

For all their virtuosity, and there is that in spades, the real charm of this show and of jazz in general is the spontaneous and improvisational nature of the beast. Too often a show is rehearsed to the nines with every line and gesture crafted. The back and forth between these talents and even the occasional on-stage awkwardness restores your faith that when they say – “Do you want to play that chart man?” “Yeah, let’s do that one,” you believe it.

Kryztoff Rating: 4K

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