Los Angeles Music Review: JAMIE CULLUM/SOULIVE/ LISA FISCHER (Hollywood Bowl)

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by Tony Frankel on August 6, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


The trifecta of performers at the Hollywood Bowl last night was given a strange reaction by the well-attended crowd. Whether it was during the sets of soulstress Lisa Fischer, funk/jazz trio Soulive, or big-band innovator Jaime Cullum, the inordinate amount of talking, moving, boisterous, and cell-phone playing patrons astounded me. I think that most folks were there for just one of their favorite acts and offered unruly behavior to the others. The problem here was the line-up. Fisher and Soulive were most unsuitable openers for Cullum, who ended an 18-month tour with this concert. Truth be told, there were so many amazing artists backing up Cullum (15 to be precise) that the indomitable, indefatigable singer / songwriter / multi-instrumentalist should have offered two acts on his own.


Fischer is one of our greatest singers, but she is a soul soother; invigorating and sensual. Just as delightful as ever, she was hardly rousing in this context, even with her sterling three-piece band (fortunately, Fischer will be at the Valley Performing Arts Center, a much more suitable locale for her vocal stylings, on Oct. 2, 2015). Fischer’s ridiculously short set may not have energized the house (she doesn’t have what is known as “star power”) but she completely strengthened my spirit with her trademark earth-mother powers of love and vulnerability—not to mention an extreme vocal range and echo effects that would make Yma Sumac envious. Her mesmerizing vocal dexterity was a veritable woodwind section during her Grammy Award–winning hit single “How Can I Ease the Pain”—a refrain that received different inflections and nuance, whether a statement or a plea, with each recurrence.

Just as impressive was her musical director, JC Maillard (aka Jean-Christophe Maillard, aka Mbutu, aka Grand Baton), a French composer, guitarist, pianist, singer/songwriter and arranger. The Caribbean native, replete in Lady Godiva-length dreadlocks, proffered nimble fingerwork on both guitar and the SazBass—an 8 steel-stringed electroacoustic lute-like instrument inspired by the traditional Turkish “saz” (also known as “bağlama”) and Greek “bouzouki,” created and designed upon JC’s request by French luthier Herve Prudent. Maillard, joined by percussionist Thierry Arpino and bassist and fellow back-up vocalist Aidan Carroll, also rocked with keen gypsy wailing back-up vocals during a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (Fischer toured with the Stones, among other greats, as a back-up singer).


Also unsuitable for the Bowl, and even more unsuitable as an opener for Cullum, was Soullive, which offered their characteristic funk and jazz but very little soul. Even with supremely original covers by the Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby” and “I Want You”) and an energy-boosting trumpet performance by Rashawn Ross, the audience became fidgety.

jamie cullum

Cullum, one of his generation’s greatest showmen, did indeed show off all the attributes that make him one of Britain’s most successful artists (with over 10 million records sold), seamlessly blurring the lines between jazz and pop with a husky, sexy vocal tremolo and a fiery, ridiculously energetic performance. Accompanied by his crackerjack and attractive touring band—saxophonist, keyboard player and band-leader Tom Richards, bassist Loz Garratt, drummer Brad Webb, and guitarist-trumpet player Rory Simmons—and 11 of L.A.’s best, Cullum began with an infectious snare-drum attack on “The Same Things” and never let up from there.

Standing, slamming, or striding on the piano, he veered from a lot of standards, but included a sensitive rendition of Randy Newman’s “Losing You” and a be-bopping “Interlude,” both from his most recent album, Interlude; the title track is the Dizzy Gillespie tune recorded by Sarah Vaughan, before it became the instrumental known as “Night in Tunisia.” I wish Cullum had settled down more so that I could get an actual take on his musicianship, but the band blew me away and the personality-drenched set captivated the crowd. Definitely never a dull moment, but at just over an hour, it felt like a warm-up to something that could have been nirvana.

Jamie Cullum; Lisa Fischer & Grand Baton; Soulive
Hollywood Bowl
played Wednesday August 5 at 8:00
for future events, visit www.hollywoodbowl.com

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