Jo Lawry

Camelot Lounge, February 15

Lawry res
Photo: Erika Kapin.

So many jazz singers shoot themselves in the foot by suffering the delusion that they are also credible songwriters. Limping and bloodied they persist, and we, the forgiving audience, wear the tripe to hear the standards. Jo Lawry, the finest jazz vocalist Australia has produced (and Sting’s backing singer since 2009), was also bitten by the song-writing bug. The difference is that she has a gift for the music of words, a feel for the stories they tell, and an instinct for how to drape a lyric elegantly across a vivid melody.

Lawry taught herself guitar to pen her songs, thereby damming up the ocean of jazz harmony that washed into her material if she composed at the piano. If the guitar forced her to be relatively primitive her ingeniousness in creating these rudimentary parts was plainer in this stripped-down live context than on Taking Pictures, the album being launched. Cushioning it were Christopher Hale’s six-string acoustic bass guitar and the drums and percussion of the astounding Jamey Haddad (from Paul Simon’s band), plus guest contributions from Marcus Rojas (also a Simon alumnus, on tuba), Sally Cameron (vocals) and James Hazelwood-Dale (double bass).

The latter joined for the one standard, Irving Berlin’s Remember, on which Lawry, effervescent and riveting, imbued her singing with a freedom (also present on two Gian Slater songs) that was compressed in her own material. Her exceptional improvising skills need not be sacrificed on the altar of her song-writing, although the compensation in her own songs was the sense of flowers opening to reveal their secrets – that and her always accurate, charming and mellifluous singing.

Many songs, including Impossible (sung with Sting on the album), were beautifully crafted, and the tuba added an exquisitely elegiac air to The Rest Of Me. Hale was a model of taste and groove, and Haddad proved one of those rare magicians whose sounds, placement and dynamics were so flawless and vibrant as sometimes to be profoundly moving