PAINTBOX JANE @ the St Ives Jazz Club, 24 July 2018
30 July 2018
The following musings come not from a jazz expert, but from a - hopefully educated - ’civilian’ with an interest in jazz (and music in general), one who has been fortunate enough to be introduced to the work of Mike and Kate Westbrook a few years ago.
The first live Westbrook show I attended was A Bigger Show with the Uncommon Orchestra, an exuberant and dramatic musical overview of our relationship with technology in the age of the internet (it is now available on a double CD released in 2016, as Westbrook aficionados well know).
The narrative in Paintbox Jane revolves around the French painter Raoul Dufy (played with panache by Tim Goodwin) as he paints an imaginary portrait of a female friend. It shares with A Bigger Show the quintessentially Westbrookian fusion of jazz, musical, cabaret and theatre, but on a smaller scale. The powerful big orchestra sound of the earlier show is here replaced by the more intimate music made by piano, vocals, saxophone and bass. On that summer evening of 24 July at the St Ives Jazz Club, this jazzy chamber music sounded perhaps more enthralling than ever before. The vocals provided by Kate Westbrook, Martine Waltier and Billie Bottle soared above Mike Westbrook’s broody keyboards, Alan Wakeman’s groovy saxophone and Marcus Vergette’s dramatically pounding double bass. Jane Mann – for whom the show was commissioned – was among an audience who appeared mesmerised by both music and lyrics.
Photo: Angela Jianu
The mix of sounds in this music drama about the condition of the artist is daring: it ranges from the 1960s samba-inflected ‘Brigitte Bardot’ by the Brazilian Miguel Gustavo to the French chanson light touch and hilariousness of Raoul Dufy’s swimming song, the jazzy lyricism of ‘Dufy Paints, Mingus Plays’ and the bold ‘oratorio’ chorus in ‘Star Collapse’, among other traditions. The seemingly incongruous appearances in Nice of Bardot, Charles Mingus, Henri Matisse and Walter Pater bring to life a serious reflection on the inter-relations of creativity and mortality set against the backdrop of a heady summer’s day in Nice (where, appropriately, Raoul Dufy is buried). Non omnis moriar, ‘I shall not wholly die’, the Latin poet Horace wrote a very long time ago with reference to the immortality imparted by his surviving poetry. This hope is what engages the ageing Dufy’s mind as he muses on his rivalry with Matisse and on the ‘cruelty’ of an oblivious posterity. The theme of loss pervades the script: not only the decline of artistic creativity and vigour, but also the evanescence of female beauty. Sung with passion by Billie Bottle, ‘Sound of Caress’ is about the fleeting moment by the sea when the silk of a dress brushes gracefully against youthful skin. Nothing will endure, Kate Westbrook’s lyrics seem to suggest, but let us bask in this brief moment of perfection.
While the themes are deep and serious, Paintbox Jane is never heavy-going. It remains throughout an upbeat hymn to the redeeming power of beauty, love and creativity. On that warm evening of 24 July we were transported by Mike Westbrook’s show from St. Ives to the seawall in Nice, where Wakeman’s/Mingus’ dolent saxophone solos welcome the imminent nightfall. I for one cannot wait for the next Paintbox Jane show: one dreams, inevitably, of a live performance in Nice…
Remembering John and Margery Styles, founder members of Smith’s Academy.