At a time of the year saturated with concerts a pleasingly large crowd turned up for City Choir Dunedin’s latest concert, “Jazz Cafe”. In a town hall decorated with tinsel and streamers, with the standard downstairs seats replaced by tables and chairs and a dance floor for local group Swing Riot, the audience was entertained by a host of musical guests from around Dunedin.
The concert began with a set from the Dunedin Youth Jazz Orchestra, a group still in its foundation year, who played a lively set of varied music. This was the third time I have heard the ensemble and they really are improving at every turn. It will be exciting to see what they and their director Bill Martin do in the future.
Following this, City Choir Dunedin made their first of three appearances singing a bracket of jazz standards. Throughout the night, the choir brought great energy to the stage and their overall sound was one of the best I’ve heard from the choir in recent years. In this bracket, however, the choral vowels needed a little brightening for the American repertoire, especially in Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm. The choir were joined for these numbers by the Dunedin City Jazz Orchestra who subsequently performed a solo set of their own. Director Calder Prescott has the band in good shape with strong players throughout the band. The ensemble relished the opportunity to play in the acoustics of the Town Hall and put on an impressive show.
The change in mood and setting brought about by Cafe Operana was a welcome one after the early sets of relentlessly high energy. Cafe Operana brought a more relaxed atmosphere and a high quality of performance, keeping the previously vibrant audience riveted and engaged throughout, through grief and farce. Lois Johnston, Helen Webby and Sophia Bidwell delighted as a full ensemble and the mix and matching, and later introduction of Sean Manning worked incredibly effectively in the context of the cafe style atmosphere.
City Choir then returned to sing Alexander L’Estrange’s Song Cycle: vive la vélorution! accompanied by a jazz quintet. While enthusiastically sung and well delivered by the choir, this piece was longer than necessary, with numbers routinely descending into laboured jokes dwelled upon for far too long. The choir, to their credit did seem to realise this, and had members at various times cycling across stage, dressing up in all sorts of clothing and dancing. The Jazz quintet at all times played sensitively and showed some of the best talent in the current Dunedin music scene.
We were then treated to a set from Southern Youth Choir. The choir has improved greatly in the last year and they adeptly performed five works by American jazz composers. Whilst generally coping with the part imbalance within the choir well, occasionally all tenor and bass sound was lost to the sheer numbers of sopranos and altos. The repertoire was suitable for the evening, but largely unambitious for a regional youth choir. It is good, however, to see the choir tracking in the right direction.
Sophie Morris was then introduced to the audience. Her set was polished and well received with Taylor the Latte Boy in particular provoking murmurs of laughter and All that Jazz proving a popular hit.
The majority of the audience then decided 3 hours and 15 minutes was a long and enough concert and I would be lying if I didn’t say I well and truly agreed by that point. However we still had three musical theatre songs from City Choir, a second full set from the Jazz Orchestra and a final bizarre rendition of In the Mood to go before the concert finished. While the evening was undoubtedly full of high quality performances; the length of the concert was perhaps a little too long, at 3 hours 50 minutes, even for the most die hard of City Choir supporter. However, that said, the format was inspired. We need more unconventional and risk taking approaches to engage audiences and create awareness of the music community in Dunedin and the lavishly decorated cafe style town hall certainly did that. Kudos to all the people whose hard work made the night possible.