Some four or five years ago, after watching Jo Harman transfix and bewitch an audience in a Yorkshire chapel, I ventured, in print, the view that this was exactly the kind of gig that show-cased all her strengths and talents at their best. Her total commitment and tangible involvement with her songs in front of a knowledgeable and appreciative audience is a gift that allows her almost to touch the listener and draw out an essential emotive response. Later, I was sent a single of her singing the heart-breaking Michael McDonald classic 'I Can Let Go Now' where she drills down into emotions you barely knew existed. This just confirmed all my views,
Some years on, although she has shown she can certainly dominate a huge arena or festival audience...(ParkPop anyone?), it is very pleasing to see the current range of Jo's comparatively intimate venue concerts getting the huge and devoted response that she so deserves. It is a very special talent for an artist to continually play so successfully, time and again, in the pressure-cooker of those up-front and personal appearances. For example, if you were fortunate to catch any of the recent Martin Taylor/Alison Burns concerts reprising Jo Pass and Ella Fitzerald, you will understand what I am on about. Everyone turns up with sky high expectations and are seldom, if ever, disappointed.
It is no wonder then that a live recording was seen as a credible venture.
Nevertheless, however good the performance, the decision to release a 'live' album is anything but an easy one. Yep – crappy sound, no atmosphere, audience take-over, don't you love the outta-time clapping - the road to live album success is littered with the long forgotten bodies of those who tried and failed. Many a music collection has a live album filed under the 'why bother' section. On the other hand, when it works, it rightly becomes a serious and significant addition to a musician's body of work and is enjoyed as such.
Essentially, you are offering the listener one of the best seats in the house. A comfortable spot to which they can return constantly without having to queue or fight for a drink. A place where not only can some re-live their attendance at a memorable gig but tens of thousands more get to share that experience. It has to be right as there is nowhere to hide. Not many can do that.
Jo and her team have got this one exactly right. Recorded live at the Jazz Cafe, the album has been mixed by Dave Salley and Fred Mollin, the Nashville guys who put such a refined touch to the original phenomenal 'People We Become' album. Jo and her band of exceptional musicians Gary Sanctuary (keys) Nat Martin (guitar) Andy Tolman (bass) and Magic Johnson (drums) have been on the road working hard on this set from the album and it shows. Supplemented with backing singers (Niamh McNally and Natalie Palmer) and an additional guitarist (Luca Farrone) and although barely rehearsed and an apparently un-edited take, it brilliantly retains its raw edge and comes across as an atmospheric and emotional performance. Listening to Jo's commentary between songs is to have her talking to you.
If you are one of the many who were swept away by the extraordinary power and passion of the 'People We Become' album, this is a must buy. It is a moment in time. It will wrap you round; it will bring you soul, jazz, funk, blues and maybe the odd tearful moment (yep, 'I Can Let Go Now' is in there) - but most of all, it will take you a significant step further into this talented singer and song-writer's amazing musical world. Jo is quite rightly very proud of it.