Album Review: The Theory Of Joy

Christopher Loudon, Jazz Times

10th May 2016

Great jazz singers, like great comedians, are masters of timing. That Ian Shaw is a virtuoso of both disciplines, balancing standup and concert gigs, speaks to the breadth of his genius and to the singularity of his style as a singer. It's hardly surprising that he's often classified as a cabaret performer since he so heartily embraces that polished art's special blend of storytelling élan and vocal dexterity. Always a step beyond jazz singing, he is better described as a jazz-savvy showman.

Also an estimable pianist, arranger and songwriter, he has experimented with everything from acoustic funk to big bands and string quartets. Here, for the first time, he travels the more traditional route of vocalist plus trio, teaming with pianist Barry Green, bassist Mick Hutton and drummer Dave Ohm. As always, the chameleonic Shaw is enthralling.

The playlist brilliantly jumbles the old (revisiting Small Day Tomorrow and the title track from 2009's Somewhere Towards Love), new, borrowed (David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Cy Coleman, Traffic, Michel Legrand, Oliver!) and blue (a prowling Born to Be Blue among four digital-only tracks). Though the eclectic mix is unilaterally dazzling, including a caffeinated nod to Betty Carter with All This and Betty Too, Shaw remains most compelling when unguardedly confessional, here with the wrenching epitaph My Brother.