Hetty Kate Quartet

The Joan, May 22


Hetty res
Hetty Kate. Photo: Woodrow Wilson.

Jazz singer Hetty Kate reminds me of a good champagne with some bottle age: simultaneously effervescent and restrained. She also boasts natural elegance, a pretty voice devoid of any harshness, excellent diction (notable on a fleet Love Me or Leave Me) and a breezy rhythmic sense in her phrasing. Yet often the net result was “jazz lite”, as though she’s never asked herself why she does what she does. Nonetheless if she is never going to dazzle you with invention or slice your heart in two she is certainly good enough to engage, to bring something of her own to a program of standards and to employ a top-shelf band.

She was at her best on No More Blues, that effervescence and restraint a natural fit with this up-tempo bossa nova. Also standing out were Why Don’t You Do Right?, sung against just bass and drums, with a little sassiness lending deeper colour to the prettiness and elegance, and Something Cool, where a certain detachment suited the lyric’s world-weariness. Less successful was Stardust, which demanded a deeper excavation of the lyric rather than idle beauty.

Kate, from Melbourne, assembled local players I have not heard together before: pianist Mike Nock, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Andrew Dickeson. One expected Nock and Dickeson to eat up such a gig with ease, but Swanton (of the Necks and The catholics) is now rarely heard playing standards, and his astute accompaniment, his synergy with Nock on Stardust and his solo on Why Don’t You Do Right? were particular pleasures.

Nock, who had begun the concert with some lovely solo piano, delighted in the sparks flitting between the foursome (engendered by the intense listening that comes from flying without a rehearsal), and he was in especially playful mood on Just You, Just Me. The super-professional Dickeson, meanwhile, stayed subdued through the early songs to give the performance an upward inflection in dynamics and drama, and generated a beautifully supple and nuanced groove for No More Blues.