Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Joy Askew at City Winery

Joy Askew grew up in Newcastle, England, and by age 14 was playing piano and singing around town in a blues band with her brother. She later attending a jazz college in London, where she studied tenor saxophone along with the piano and vocal classes. She heard American music and determined she would get there. This opportunity came when she joined the band Eye to Eye for an East Coast tour in 1982, which led to her relocating to New York City. She played keyboards and sang background on tours for Joe Jackson in 1982, Laurie Anderson in 1984, Rodney Crowell in 1991, and Peter Gabriel in 1992. Askew began working on a solo career in 1993. For her eighth and most recent album, Queen Victoria, released on May 11, 2017, returned to England and recorded with a traditional British brass band.

Over the past few years, Joy Askew's performances have gradually gravitated from accompanying herself only with a piano, to incorporating a folkie band, and recently to piano with rhythm section plus horns. For most of her set at City Winery tonight, Askew sat at a piano on the left half of the stage, and five horn players sat in a semicircle on the right side of the stage. This reworking of her songs to this final stage of piano and horns brought a new light to her songs. On many songs, Askew began with a sensitive, whispering delivery, but opened into a big, loud voice, equally passionate and resounding with richness. "Queen Victoria" in particular featured Askew playing accomplished piano melodies that built towards a rousing climax. The Americanized brass band consisting of tuba, French horn, trombone and two trumpets (French horns and trumpets are usually absent in traditional British brass bands) punctuated a moody, even mournful enormity to the piano-based songs. Headliner James Maddock joined her for the final song, "Knocking Around an Old Tin Can," adding a grittiness to an otherwise soft and fluid set. The piano/vocal/horn arrangements were brilliantly imagined and beautifully executed. The result was original and moving.

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