BWW Review: PERTH CABARET COLLECTIVE: A FESTIVE JAMBOREE at Downstairs At The Maj
Some say it's the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas; probably because they're quoting the song. And there are plenty of reasons to celebrate as the year draws to a close, so why not spend an evening Downstairs at the Maj with the Perth Cabaret Collective, singing along to some of your favourite Christmas tunes and familiar jazz standards, featuring the vocal stylings of Jessie Gordon, Cougar Morrison and Mark Turner? It's a perfectly suitable, reasonable, seasonal thing to do.
The Perth Cabaret Collective are led by the merry and bright Jess Herbert, who directs from within the all-female sax section (herself on bari sax, Erin Royer on alto sax/clarinet, and Gemma Farrell on tenor) like an awesome multitasking lady-boss. Across the stage are the blokes blowing a lot of hot air (Ricki Malet and Matt Smith on trumpet, Steve Bickley on trombone) in the brass section - and I mean hot in the jazziest sense of the word. Just off stage right tinkling away on the grand is Tim Voutas, while in the middle are Kate Pass on the bass (do these rhyme?) and Ryan Daunt on the drums, completing the Festive Jamboree collective.
Gordon, Morrison and Turner take turns at the mic, doing solos, duets and trios, with a number of band-only jams sprinkled in. Christmas tunes are short and sweet, so there's plenty of time and room to fill with some secular hits like Mood Indigo, The Lady Is a Tramp, Anything You Can Do, and Cabaret. The band gets to show off their prowess as (presumably) studied jazz musicians, with my fond favourite being the tenor sax solos by Gemma Farrell; I have to confess a bit of a bias, though, because my grandad was a tenor sax player in similar outfits back in the middle of the last century. I doubt there were many women in the bands he played with though. In any case, the Collective harks back to the swing band sound in its heyday, invoking the memory of a time gone by.
Gordon's ease as a lead performer is abundantly clear; she not only has the sparkle and dazzle to outshine a Clark Griswold Christmas display, but she has the sultry, silky vocal chops to back it up. Mark Turner risks being completely outshone, sandwiched ever-so-dapperly though he is between Jessie Gordon and the equally brilliant and dazzling Cougar Morrison. Morrison completely disrupts the traditional White Christmas nostalgia dream, delivering some zingers that provoke audible shock from the largely 50+ hetero Maj opening night crowd. It was an utter delight to watch her throw those punches, looking impeccable in sequence dresses (please don't correct me on that spelling; if you know, you know) and giving La Vie en rose more rolled Rs than Eartha Kitt and Edith Piaf combined.
It's rather fun to see these young musicians finding a home in the music of yesteryear and not shying away from giving it a thoroughly modern twist. There is a place for nostalgia and Christmas cheer, but I believe it is time for bringing new ideas and diverse voices to the Maj cabaret table.