On Saturday night in Eye Town Hall, an excited audience was brought to its feet by a dynamic performance of Will Todd’s ‘Mass in Blue’. It was given by – yes, the Eye Bach Choir. It is difficult to imagine such a lofty Victorian pile as the venue for an evening of intimate jazz and blues, but somehow the organisers pulled it off. The audience sat round tables enjoying wine and nibbles during the show. The performance was underpinned, musically, by a marvellously gifted quartet of young musicians from the Royal Academy of Music formed specifically for the concert, and led by the accomplished pianist Owen Dawson. They improvised beautifully in the classic jazz style, in a set of numbers of their own, each displaying his or her talent, and they were particularly sensitive and skilful in accompanying the glamorous singer Lisa Cassidy in numbers by Thelonius Monk – ‘Around Midnight’ – and Gershwin’s ‘That man of mine’. Also in the first half, Lisa and the choir gave an upbeat and vigorous performance of a medley of songs from ‘Porgy and Bess’.
However, there was little doubt that it was ‘Mass in Blue’ which was the show-stopper. Written originally for the Hertfordshire Chorus, Will Todd’s brilliant blend of driving jazz grooves and clear strong choral blues writing, against which the quartet and soloist weaved and blended in a delightful aural tapestry, is a winner. Lisa Cassidy’s ‘sparkly’ performance was cool and confident. At one point, she effortlessly held a top ‘C’ for several bars and throughout the work she performed with great musical concentration yet in an appropriately sensuous and romantic manner. The concert was conducted by Leslie Olive who deserves enormous credit not just for driving forward and creating many moments of sheer magic from the performers, but for having taught what is essentially a choir with a thoroughly classical background, to sing and react to such entirely different music. All musical performances require precision and discipline, none more so than works based on jazz themes, and the apparent ease with which the players and singers performed belies what must have been very hard work undertaken by those taking part in this magnificent concert.