Gig review: S’Wonderful: Gershwin & Friends at Revelation St Mary’s, Ashford, 25 May 2016, by Anna Morell (5 stars)

Alice Zawadzki

When you have children, you lose a piece of yourself. Subsumed by the drip drip of little needs, adult interests can easily fall away. And so I have found myself inhabiting churches. A half-remembered way of finding my way back to myself. Not for god – I’m still resolutely unsure – but for music. Proper venues are out for now. Too distant, noisy, late and drunken for my ragged motherhood energies. But churches, I have discovered, quietly host comfort and comings together, with concerts.

None does it better than Revelation St Mary’s in Ashford. The town you don’t quite get into from Medway and Maidstone when you go to the designer outlet. The place you zoom through en route to the coast, or France. But the beating heart of this overlooked commuter town needs to be felt and heard. It’s a Union Chapel for our county, and has been consolidating a solid, city-quality roster for a few years now. We just forgot that it’s a mere 20 minute drive from Maidstone down the M20. I’ve waited longer at suburban bus stops.

Last night, it played host to Alice Zawadzki, Kit Downes and Matthew Sharp – three hugely talented jazz musicians who, in the spirit of jazz, flung themselves together and into a classic Gershwin repertoire with twists, sensitivities and nuances normally heard in the most famous concert halls. If you can catch these three in any permutation – solo or ensemble, do. They are world class.

I first heard Alice sing at a memorial. Her voice so delicate, a skein of strength fluttering beneath it, soaring, swooping, connecting voice to ear to heart. I put my tears solely down to the occasion. Until the next time I heard her, and again, there was something in her voice that made my breath catch and pricked my tear ducts. And again last night. From the opening barely breathed sustain of her first ‘Summertime’, the living felt unbearably tender and vulnerable, as she rose up singing and was only stopped from taking us to the skies by the beautiful gilded gables blocking the way over the nave.

‘Mack The Knife’ was delivered with gusto and malice dripping like blood from that infamous blade, and ‘Bess, You Is My Woman Now’, delivered by Matthew and Alice with eyes locked in rapture and words sung so truthfully it almost felt like an intrusion to listen.

Between Gershwin numbers, they indulged us with some of their original songs, and a jaw on the floor rendition of Sollima’s ‘Lamentatio’ by Matthew (who is also the Creative Director of the venue). You’ll struggle to find a version that comes close to the raw passion and attack on youtube.

There is an expectation of fullness and lushness with Gershwin. A full orchestra. The works. But there was only a skeleton of that. Alice played violin. Kit Downes’ gentle, sensitive piano elegantly slipped around those known by-heart numbers. Matthew’s rich, robust cello prowled sensuously, sometimes barely contained, sometimes just waiting to pounce. That proud, confident baritone. That astonishingly sweet, sinewy soprano. Just five voices – keys, bows, strings, throats and guts, but they were everything. Wonderful. Marvellous.

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