Last Friday I attended an important gig for a good musician friend of mine. Jazz, blues singer-songwriter Julia Turner, whose new album Fifteen Times the Moon is set for release this year, hosted a pre-release album launch at the Bristol Folk House.
The show took place downstairs past the cafe in the medium-sized hall, which had a surprisingly really intimate feel. People sat in groups around tables or on a line of chairs off to the side of the stage. Lighting was dim (obviously, that would be pretty harsh to make people eat and drink in the dark now, wouldn’t it), which added to the cosiness – I felt as though I were in a living room. A big one, of course.
I got there just in time to catch the beginning of the opening special guest’s first poem. Vanessa Kisuule: award-winning poet from Bristol. I had read her book of poems Joyriding the Storm and so it was a special treat to hear the words brought to life by the lips of their author. Onstage she has a warm persona, very inviting and familiar. She performed “Strawberries”, a really funny, beautiful and nostalgic account of young love… or the appearance of it, and succeeded at vividly juxtaposing two living legends of opposing musical genres in the minds of the audience, recounting an argument she and her then boyfriend had once had over which one was the best. Kisuule’s delivery sounds like she’s reliving each detail, an HD video in the front of her mind. Very natural and unforced. She ended with “A Personal Malleable Manifesto” and, introducing it, told us the importance as a performer of not selling a perfect person, and, simple and pertinent, the messages of accepting responsibility for one’s own life and having the courage to share what one believes is right were aptly exemplified in the poem.
Shortly after, Isolde, Lauren Bradford and Julia, collectively known as The Eko Trio, made their way to the stage. Each of them artists in their own right, the a cappella group sang a number of covers and most of their songs were short and sweet. This was my first time hearing them live and I was impressed at how their voices blended so well. All three have great and clear vocal technique and it was equally clear in their demeanour and ease of interaction that they were an established outfit. It was great to see a group of women up there, owning the stage and performing such a polished set.
The audience was very attentive; it seemed like they all felt spoiled. All were genuinely happy to be there, laughed at all the right places and didn’t make the performers feel uncomfortable or awkward – nor myself for that matter, who sat on the backmost chair of the seating to the side and received a smile from almost every person who got up to retrieve a yummy snack or another cheeky cup of tea from the upstairs cafe during the interval.
And then came the main act: Julia Turner. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Julia, you will instantly discover her genuineness and how friendly she is. That night she was exactly the same and especially self-effacing (as to be expected, really – was unlikely she’d had a lobotomy since the last time I saw her). Several times she thanked the audience for attending and for their support, a lot of whom had helped raise the funds for Turner and her band to record her follow-up album to 2012’s City Synchronicity.
Influenced by and having studied jazz and blues, her voice has one of the smoothest tones – it’s so warm and clear. I instantly noticed that, impressively, Turner’s voice remained strong despite her advanced pregnancy, a sign of proper vocal technique – a feat often not so easily accomplished by heavily pregnant vocalists. The stand-out song of the night for me was the title track, Turner’s own interpretation of the true account of two men who went out fishing and ended up missing for 15 months. It was true storytelling and masterful direction of live instrumentation (can’t wait to hear the studio version!). Violin and double bass both added texture and pace to the story she carved out with her acoustic guitar – proof that simpler chord progressions under weighty words and skilled production can still hit hard.
While I’ve mentioned them, I may as well introduce the band. Impressive multi-instrumentalist Annalise Lam alternated between violin and clarinet. Her solos, especially on violin, are very inspired, soulful and exciting – you really don’t know what she’s going to do next. Her style showcases her classical training as well as her love of gypsy jazz. On double bass was Pasquale Votino, and he’s a pretty laid-back performer but that’s not to say he isn’t into it. Each note is purposeful and proves its importance. The drummer, Roberto Nappi, is excellent. His timing is spot on – literally, he never misses a beat or lags. Like Votino, he’s also very relaxed – they make it look easy. Completing the line-up was Julia’s sweet-voiced Eko bandmate, Lauren, who appeared as guest backing vocalist.
The album’s subjects vary from the state of the earth and the consciousness of its inhabitants, to emotional baggage passed down from generation to generation. On a couple of songs Turner even wrapped her jazzy melodies around Indian tongues. She also revealed that while studying, it had once been communicated to her that “[her] playing was a joke” and that her “licks weren’t jazz”. This became the inspiration for the song “Fear of Music”, expressing how at times one can become so paralyzed by wanting to do justice to something held so dear.
Overall, it was a pleasure to be present at Julia Turner’s album launch, not only as a friend, but as another average spectator. The hard work and dedication over the years shows. After four years she has managed to complete the dreaded sophomore album. She and her band sound solid and neat, and they have a great chemistry. There was a truly blissful, cheerful and familial spirit, every person in the room silently communicating their support for the musician and her forthcoming album. Welcome, Fifteen Times the Moon, to the world — well, almost welcome. See you in perhaps a couple of months.
See juliaturner.co.uk for more details on the album’s release.
You can find Julia on:
Photo credit: Dorothy Smith