The Jess Abrams Quartet - or on this particular evening, trio - are a glorified Cat Stevens tribute band: they spend an hour covering Cat Stevens’ most prominent hits, while putting a fresh, original spin on the numbers. Unfortunately, for anyone who wasn’t an avid fan of Cat Stevens or jazz, this show won’t really impress either musically or in terms of entertainment as it should.
Of course, the three musicians were talented and it is always nice to see old songs reinterpreted and reworked into unique cover versions, but there were several musical imperfections throughout. The most obvious of these was the double bass which seemed tragically out of tune, or perhaps less credibly, was simply being played poorly. This was particularly noticeable during the bass solos, which left quizzical expressions on a couple of audience members. The pianist, however, was excellent throughout and flitted up and down the piano with great ease and panache, but never really impressed to the extent that he became entertaining.
Jess Abrams herself did nothing to add to this background music atmosphere. While her voice was very soothing and perfect for jazz, it became very breathy at the top of her range and she went flat on several occasions. The set needed a song to allow Abrams to let her voice go - it felt as if she was holding back the entire time - but even ‘Popstar’ lacked the meat it required. There were also very few dynamics throughout the show. Abrams’ vocals remained at the same level throughout and it led to an unexciting performance, despite the high quality of music that was being produced. Occasionally Abrams did allow her emotion to come across in her voice, but not nearly as much as she claimed to be feeling. There were also occasions when she landed on a note so perfectly that the audience yearned for that note to be held just a little longer.
It’s difficult to think of a word that describes this concert more effectively than ‘nice’. It was just nice. There was nothing inspiring to it, nothing overwhelmingly emotional, nothing that made the audience feel engaged with the music being played.t was merely nice, pleasant background music. The minimalism of the arrangements meant it felt more like Cat Stevens Deconstructed than Reconstructed.