James Morrison with Megan Washington and Marian Petrescu

State Theatre, August 8

Morrison-Megan res Russell Cherry
Megan Washington and James Morrison. Photo: Russell Cherry.

James Morrison and Megan Washington bring out the best in each other. She is such an idiosyncratic singer and performer as to shrug aside all the baggage of trying to sing standards “authentically”, and just give them the Megan Washington treatment. She makes the songs hers; owns them, just as she owns the stage, commandeering all eyes in the room with her odd hyperactivity and a persona that is part film-noir siren and part little girl lost. Yet she has enough jazzy sensibilities in her phrasing and harmonies so that she never feels like a pop cut-out tacked to a jazz background.

In delivering Cole Porter’s masterpiece of smouldering eroticism, So In Love, she toyed with it one moment, preyed on it the next, and gave it a note of desperation without descending into histrionics. Morrison offered a lilting, haunting flugelhorn solo, and the accompaniment included impressionistic cymbal colours from drummer Gordon Rytmeister. The song cries out for space for the foreboding to compound itself, but alas the Romanian pianist Marian Petrescu filled in all the holes as diligently as someone plastering a wall.

In fact throughout the night the pianist was like a wind-up doll that unleashed phenomenal virtuosity every solo, but virtually never let his improvising breathe. A frenetic duet with Morrison’s trumpet on Caravan was a low point. By contrast the American alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton sat in on a ballad-tempo Take The “A” Train and squeezed buckets of music from each note he played.

Washington began Comes Love just against Phil Stack’s wonderful bass, stretching syllables as if putting them on a rack until they surrendered their truths, before Morrison contributed a glowing trombone solo.

She presented her own To Or Not Let Go twice: alone at the piano in the first half (when she tended to swallow her words) and with greater conviction and confidence in the second, interacting with the band. Perhaps she was meant to be a jazz singer all along.