AVERY*SUNSHINE - ISLINGTON ASSEMBLY HALL, LONDON, 20 JUNE 2014
Upper Street, London, N1 didn't feel quite as exuberant last Friday night. England's premature exit from the World Cup, thanks to Italy's defeat, had hit the nation hard and dark clouds seemed to be forming.
Thankfully there was Sunshine on the horizon...
Last Friday I had the pleasure of reviewing Avery*Sunshine, supported by Anoushka Lucas, on behalf of Jazz FM. The gig was held at Islington Assembly Hall, a stunning Grade II listed venue in the heart of North London that has retained much of its original architectural detail and Art Deco interior, that everyone must visit at least once in their life. I insist.
With a perfect view of the magnificent stage, reserved tables with comfy seating and a disco ball that created a coruscating kaleidoscope of light, this was a classy way to hear live music after a week in the big smoke.
The evening began with British jazz singer Anoushka Lucas, deserved winner of the Love Supreme Discovery Competition in 2013. She plopped herself down at the keyboard and with no other introduction needed than a cheerful 'hello' and a beaming smile, she sang Daydreams. Anoushka's voice is beautifully raw; it can be both powerful and velvety and her impressive set was eclectic. Far From Here recounted holiday romances and conjured up images of balmy nights and impulse kissing while Get Up was soulful and uplifting and a solid delivery was met with appreciative head nodding from the crowd. Her solo piano playing gave the illusion of a big band when in reality it was just her, supported by Ben Reed on drums and Rick Biddulph on guitar.
As well as possessing a voice of great depth and quality, Anoushka is an accomplished guitar player and her beautiful strumming and makeshift drum beat ensured that Brixton Hill was a stand-out track for me. A sultry love letter to where she used to live, she welcomes the change in summer season and celebrates the sunrise on Brixton Hill (with no sirens today). Her cool London inflection and catchy lyrics reminded me a little of a jazzy Kate Nash and she is instantly likeable. Something About You is, by her own admission, something a bit sexier and was intoxicating. With her closing track, The Easiest Time, she seamlessly transitioned a low-tempo introduction into an upbeat track and the crowd were buzzing. Listening to Anoushka for the first time had the same impact on me as hearing Andreya Triana at last year's Love Supreme Festival - it gave me an appetite to hunt down her music and discover more.
A hugely important UK talent and I look forward to tracking her rise to stardom.
Jazz FM's Chris Philips popped up on stage to introduce the main act and invited us to give a London re-welcome to Avery*Sunshine; confirming there was no auto-tune to be had here, just real music. Avery was in town for the UK launch for her second studio album The Sun Room and we were promised a night of soul, jazz and gospel.
For those unfortunate souls who don't yet have some Avery in their life, she is a singer / songwriter / pianist with a powerhouse gospel-trained voice and a style that beautifully blends soul, jazz, gospel and R&B. Before releasing her self-titled debut album in 2010, she had already built an impressive musical career as a choir leader, a vocalist for Paramount Pictures' The Fighting Temptations and a choral director for the theatrical production of Dreamgirls among other great things.
Avery was as beautiful in the flesh as she is in pictures, glowing in a bright lemon top and dazzling drop earrings, and backed by possibly the most well turned out band I have ever seen in white shirt / black tie / black glasses combo. She launched straight into the infectiously catchy I Got Sunshine and crowd-participation was encouraged from the outset as she sat centre stage at the keyboard and asked us to identify whether our voice type was soprano, alto, tenor or bass and partake accordingly. Aided by a very strong double rum and coke (thanks, friendly bar staff), I convinced myself I was an alto. Fortunately my flat tones were drowned out by the most harmonious, impressive-sounding crowd I have been part of - and a very good job too.
With her organic and soulful voice and adept keyboard skills, All in My Head cleverly transitioned into Anita Baker's gorgeous Sweet Love and this was met with rapturous applause from the audience. She performed tracks from 2010's Avery*Sunshine album including Pinin' and the fact she was having a ball was clearly visible.
2014's The Sun Room was produced by writer and classically trained guitarist Dana 'Big Dane' Johnson, who also wrote all tracks with Avery, and our very own Jean Paul 'Bluey' Maunick of Incognito / Citrus Sun fame produced all horn sessions. We were privileged to hear tracks from this album for the first time with her perfectly correlated band - Johnson on guitar, Orefo Orakwue on bass and Wesley Joseph on drums.
Nothing to Something is an exquisite ballad about finding love again that was sophisticated and sultry and with Call My Name (introduced with a rally cry of 'NORTH LONDON!) she talked about how much work it takes to be in love - reminding us to be nice to each other, conversational not confrontational. We all squeezed our partners hands a little bit firmer here.
On stage, Avery is funny, sweet and self-depreciating, and she lays bare her soul with a set peppered with motivational talks and heart-to-hearts. 'Find that thing you love passionately!' and 'No one should tell you how to fulfil your dream and don't let voices on the outside be louder than the ones on the inside!' she commanded and it was impossible not to feel compelled and motivated as she lifted us out of our seats with the rocket power of the her voice. The cover of Maroon 5's Sunday Morning had a latino-samba feel and it was one of the best covers I have ever heard showcasing a sparkling crystal-clear voice.
You know when you discover a great new artist or buy a new album and it takes a good few listens before the tracks distinguish themselves from each other? Absolutely not needed with this lady. For me, each track was unique and instantly likeable particularly Ugly Part Of Me and Safe In His Arms which heralded a gospel flavour to the set. Chris Philips returned to help dish out instruments to the crowd to form Avery's percussionists. I was again in awe of such a talented bunch of people - thank goodness I didn't let my excitement get the best of me and resisted the urge to dash up to the stage to shake a tambourine. Disastrous.
(Love) Won't You Try was a funky ode to Al Green and we gave the band a much deserved hand. With Time to Shine she invited us to clap, smile and take our shoes off and I honestly felt so relaxed and caught up in her luminosity I would have happily flung them off and lay on my seat - it was like being at home. The band departed leaving just Avery playing with her new mates, us the crowd, and only her hand clapping, the piano and us singing 'Shine' could be heard echoing powerfully through the Hall.
A standing ovation was a given - it would have been a travesty if she didn't return for an encore. She did, and what an encore it was. An Aretha / Michael / Luther medley was outrageously brilliant. She masterfully orchestrated sections of the crowd to sing rounds of 'When my baby calls, gotta jump to it' from Aretha Franklin's Jump To It (which I have played on repeat ever since), 'Never too much' from Luther Vandross' Never Too Much and 'Rock with you (All night), Dance you into day' from Michael Jackson's Rock With You (which sounded just like the Jazzy Jeff's Rock With You Mix ). Genius.
Stevie Wonder's All I Do formed part of the encore and everyone did the Soul Clap resoundingly, clapping on the eighth note of the beat, and Avery finished triumphantly with Carole King's You've Got a Friend with everyone singing heartily in the rows.
At the end I was fortunate enough to meet Avery*Sunshine and she was even more beautiful in the flesh. Unfortunately I trod on Big Dane's foot in all the excitement but he was incredibly gracious and super cool, phew. Avery complimented my husband Alex's hair and he grinned from ear to ear all the way home and who could blame him. I too found myself smiling broadly - she performed with such irrepressible power and star quality that it will be impossible to forget the first time I saw her perform in this beautiful venue.
As for the football? There's always 2018. For now, I've got Sunshine on my mind.