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Groovy end to a messed-up year

Bella Groove at Smiths.

Music / “Groovin’ to the end of year!”, Bella Groove. At Smith’s Alternative, Civic, December 18. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

GROOVIN’ to the sounds of jazz by Bella Groove was the perfect way to wash away a frustrating year of cancelled concerts, changed programs and disruptions in the local music industry.

The line-up of musos in Bella Groove was Elsie Walsh, flute/vocals; Ross Buchanan, keys; Matt Lustri, guitar/vocals; Steve Richards, drums and Phill Dick, bass.

“Get Movin”, an original work by Walsh, opened the first set. This funky drum-driven piece in which every member got their solo spotlight created a bright start. During the solo flute, it reminded of “When the Saints go Marching in”. It was tight, together and highly danceable.

In a complete slowdown in every way, “December Refrain”, another Walsh tune walked along to a deep mellow flute melody. Totally gorgeous, especially the brushed drums.

“Vocabulary”, was the first song Walsh sang and what a sultry set of pipes she has. Strong and dynamic across her ranges. A fun and sexy song with scatting. Walsh knows how to swing.

A Matt Bianco song followed “Get Out of Your Lazy Bed”. With Lustri singing and on guitar, his voice had a good edge, which blended well with Walsh’s backing. An upbeat work with guitar fireworks and great rhythm.

“Feeling Groovy”, by Paul Simon came next. This song told the story of this tight combo. They are all about groove and making the audience feel fine. This free and beautifully adapted song showed what an accomplished flautist Walsh is.

Switching to electric bass, Phill Dick drove “Lady Day and John Coltrane”, by Gil Scott Heron. This pushing tune had a gritty feel with a powerful solo from Buchanan on keys. It maintained its strong drive right to the last note.

To finish the set, “Waiting”, another Walsh original. A pop-like song that had playful and childlike lyrics, with lots of na-na’s.

To open the final set, “Running to the Sea”, by Walsh. An atmospheric tune with lively playing from all performers produced a tight song that reminded me of the way jazz was used in ’70s movies. It ended with a strong and highly individual solo drum finish by Richards.

Inviting several of Walsh’s singing students to the stage, three female vocalists for “As. I’ll be Loving You Always” by Stevie Wonder. While standing a little too far from the mic, the trio struggled to be heard. But they grew in confidence and created a great rendition.

Then, as suggested by Lustri, a quasi-Bollywood rendition of “God rest ye merry, gentlemen”. Funky, with a rock feel, maybe even bordering on psychedelic, it entertained. Lots of fun it was.

To finish the gig, another Walsh original, “Bananas”. Rhythmic with wah-wah keys, the lighting even got into the groove, swirling the players in a multi-coloured array. When the sawtooth synth from the keys came in, it brought up the vibe. What a combination of timbres this owned. It had the audience moving as solos rained down.

Then an encore request from an audience member brought about the Horace Silver classic, “Strollin”. It neatly ended this groovy gig, and a messed-up year; 2023 will be better.

 

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