Edinburgh Jazz Festival reviews: Zara McFarlane | Shake ’Em Up Jazz Band

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Friday night at the jazz festival turned out to be ladies’ night in George Square as both tents played host to bands led or populated by women. At the main tent, it was the London-based singer Zara McFarlane who held court for the first half of the evening, but the McFarlane who took to the Spiegeltent stage this year seemed quite different from the new name who blew audiences away in the same venue back in 2014.

Zara McFarlane, George Square Spiegeltent ***

Shake ’Em Up Jazz Band, George Square Piccolo ***

While her voice is as soulful and clear as ever, McFarlane seems to have dispensed with one of the particularly appealing aspects of her earlier performances – a fondness for an eloquent lyric.

There was only one ballad – Allies or Enemies – in Friday night’s programme, and it was the best showcase for her gorgeous, rich and soft voice.

Otherwise, the gig was packed with numbers with bland lyrics which really weren’t worthy of her. Not that you could always readily hear them; McFarlane’s band drowned her out much of the time. An extremely charismatic and engaging performer, McFarlane did score brownie points with the Spiegeltent crowd by encouraging sing-alongs on various numbers.

Over at the Piccolo tent, meanwhile, the six young women in the Shake Em Up Jazzband, from New Orleans, had won their audience over with their sheer enthusiasm and energy, and had worked them up into a frenzy.

Featuring some impressive clarinet and trombone playing and an awful lot of underwhelming singing, this was a pretty average ensemble – nothing like as accomplished or authentic-sounding as some of the trad and classic jazz bands on the Scottish scene.

The highlight was a hot, swinging rendition of the Boswell Sisters’ Puttin’ It On, a rare treat and one which showed that, in this band, three voices in close harmony are much better than one.