Glasgow Jazz Festival review: David McAlmont, St Luke’s, Glasgow

THE 33rd edition of the Glasgow Jazz Festival achieved classy lift-off with one of the great, if undersung, vocalists of these isles interpreting one of the all-time greatest singers of any location or persuasion.

David McAlmont's muse was Billie Holiday, whose landmark Carnegie Hall concert of 1956 he covered at this show

David McAlmont, St Luke’s, Glasgow ****

David McAlmont, known for his collaborations with artists as diverse as Bernard Butler and Michael Nyman, is a tremendous technician and an audacious stylist, with a three-octave range – far greater than his muse Billie Holiday, whose landmark Carnegie Hall concert of 1956 he covered at this show.

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But it was what he did with that range which counted, and there was no disputing the love, emotion and mischief which he brought to Holiday’s singular repertoire. The blinged-up McAlmont was not interested in “tragic” Billie but in celebrating her life and vivacity via the pure sass of I Cried For You, the intuitive phrasing of Trav’lin’ Lightand delicious swing of All or Nothing At All.

In this, he was assisted by an exquisite quintet, led by musical director Alex Webb on lithe piano, and featuring the superfly saxophonist Denys Baptiste. However, the star turn came from Sue Richardson on trumpet, whose solo on Billie’s Blues was soaring perfection.

McAlmont’s dexterity and feel were demonstrated at every turn. He captured the aching yet serene soulfulness of I Cover the Waterfront, dug into the sexy blues of Fine and Mellow with utter relish and surpassed himself with the masterclass delivery of Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone. His renditions were faithful but not slavish, as best advertised by his soulful spin on the end of a simple, spellbinding encore of God Bless the Child. - FIONA SHEPHERD