Album Review: The Theory Of Joy

The Guardian

John Fordham, 11th February 2016


Classy jazz singer in his element

Jazz singers magnify the character tics of everyday life – tell-tale inflections that reveal a backstory, offbeat emphases, the catch in a voice of a hidden regret, all the mannerisms that bring favourite singers as close as partners or friends. Idiosyncratic Americans Betty Carter and Mark Murphy felt like that, and so does the British singer Ian Shaw.

Shaw doesn’t record as often as he should, as is confirmed by this collection of favourite songs and three originals. Though he knows many idioms, and is as likely to echo Stevie Wonder as Carter or Murphy, Shaw is in his most suitable element here, with a sharp-eared and sensitive jazz trio led by the excellent pianist Barry Green.

Blossom Dearie’s You Fascinate Me So mingles the singer’s candidly talkative delivery and graceful falsetto flights. Bowie’s Where Are We Now? poignantly captures bruised resolve in swerving long notes, All This and Betty Too includes a respectful impression of Carter’s sound and speed, Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is bluesily intense. It might occasionally sound like lounge jazz to a very casual listener, but you don’t have to bend an ear very far to detect its character and class.