By Theodora Galanis
Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre is set for an afternoon of cabaret. Lavish wisteria blooms hang from the ceiling, microphones and music stands are positioned on stage, and candle lit tables sit ready for groups of six.
The gentleman sitting next to me on table twelve asks if I know Alma Zygier personally – he’s surprised to see someone my age at the matinee show. While Alma and I are indeed a similar age, I reply telling him that I am just another jazz fan. My response seems to restore his sense of hope in my generation’s music taste.
Mid-way through our conversation, the quintet walks on stage: Brennan Hamilton-Smith on clarinet, Sam Halloran and Lachlan James Mitchell on guitar, and Dan Witton on double bass. Alma waltzes on last in a mauve floor-length dress, her bright eyes shining from under her curly fringe.
The quintet’s set showcases the best of the twentieth century American jazz standards, paying homage to a golden age of music composed by the likes of George Gershwin and Cole Porter.
Like me, Alma is fascinated by the pre-war era of jazz. The influence of Ella and Billie’s iconic voices are obvious in Alma’s own sound: one that has both a seductive growling depth and a raspy lightness. She demonstrates incredible vocal control as she scats through jazz scales and whizzes through fast-paced jives.
The full roundness and power of her voice shines in the song, “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, where, at the top of her range, she seamlessly moves from a belting straight note to a quivering vibrato.
The song, “Summertime”, originally composed in 1935 by Gershwin, simmers in a pared back rendition, featuring smooth solos from all members of the band. I particularly enjoyed Dan Witton’s solo on double bass, as he hummed along to his improvised riffs.
In the song, “Go Down Moses”, originally made famous by Paul Robeson, Alma connects with her Jewish heritage, telling the story of Passover. In harmonic unison, Brennan, Lachlan and Dan sing background vocals, where their low masculine voices complement Alma’s soaring sound.
Alma is mostly quiet in between songs. Occasionally, she makes a comment on her awkwardness, to which the audience laughs empathetically. While she is short on spoken words, Alma is incredibly expressive when singing.
With an elastic face and fluid body, Alma truly becomes the protagonist of each song. In romantic ballads, she reaches out in front of her face grasping at lost lovers, while in playful tunes, she smirks and shrugs her shoulders with the innocence of a child. In this way, Alma commands the space with the confidence and grace of a much older performer. She changes emotional character within seconds between songs, while maintaining an authenticity of style.
The sound of the Alma Zygier Quintet is coloured sepia, transporting listeners to an age of musical romance and glamour. However, their vintage twang is by no means stale. My new friend on table twelve and I agreed, the quintet brings a fresh take to the nostalgia of pre-war jazz: music for all ages.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.