Review: Lifejacket

The Guardian

John Fordham, 11th April 2008


Jazz singers have to do a lot more than sing jazzy songs to slip past the ruthless scrutiny of the cognoscenti, who are generally averse to vocals. But the UK's Ian Shaw - a profoundly sophisticated artist with a broad grasp of music's mechanics, as well as an affecting, emotional and sometimes very funny singer - never has trouble with the hardliners. Here, this gifted maverick has taken a different kind of risk, in making his life's passage "from young man to middle-aged child" the central thread of this album of originals composed with writer David Preston, and featuring fellow vocalist Liane Carroll, saxophonist Julian Siegel and cellist Gabriella Swallow.

The songs are autobiographical, full of details, and Shaw's mischievousness and sense of irony have been somewhat overawed by the responsibility of personal confession. (One line, in Pamela - "What's the point of shiny boots if you tread on crippled toes?" - gets closer to David Brent territory than you might imagine Shaw ever could.) The playing is immaculate, particularly from a sympathetic Guy Barker on trumpet. Shaw's mix of haunting falsettos, jazzy agility and conviction is as classy as ever, and the building intensity of the duet with Carroll and Shaw's lament on the real costs of war are the standouts.

However, it's the single non-original track, Rozz Williams' Flowers, that shows how much shared meaning can be revealed by a more ambiguous approach to the imagery of lyrics.