By Dan Dodds
“So who knew who I was before tonight?” asks the headliner Ms. Blessett.
A cheer comes back from the Jazz Café crowd.
“No, c’mon, you can be honest; it’s alright … who really knew about Algebra Blessett before?”
“And who didn’t?”
“Well for those that di’n’t … you can buy my CD, on sale, over in that corner.”
It was a trick. But then by that point, halfway through the show, Algebra already had everybody entranced and under her spell. She had to work hard at it though – there’s no gimme’s at the Jazz Café, who used to have to remind patrons to ‘Shut The Fuck Up’ with a sign printed at the back of the stage. Killer performances by the all-female support, put together by the MusicConnex showcase, would also up the ante. UK singer Gwendolyn Collins kicked off proceedings, followed by former major label US starlet Sulpacio Jones; then came Scandinavian septet Dolla Lova [a trio on record] whose good time funk and soul, swung back and forth like Abba had found themselves in front of the supertroopers at the Motortown Revue. Last up, pre-headliner, was former Eurovision song contest runner up and Incognito alumni Imaani, who informing everyone that Algebra had borrowed her band, made sure she killed it herself on a cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s Can’t Hide Love before the showstopping soul ballad Let’s Do It Right [featured on her new album due to be released by Dome Records]. Imaani reduced the noise and murmur to the sound of a ticket dropping.
The audience soon resumed the chatter during a lengthy intro by the compere, who attempted to whip up the crowd into a chant of “Global Soul”. Algebra, though, was already primed. Walking elegantly down the steps to the stage before her name had even been called, illuminated in a stunning neon yellow sequined skirt and bright pink blouse… we could all see her, even if the host was blissfully unaware.
In keeping with the ‘50s Rage In Harlem style get up, Algebra performed her 2006 hit U Do It For Me with a classy jazzband swing. Then, having only just got going, a technical glitch with the rhythm section forced the Atlantan, who hadn’t said much to start with, into a two-minute interlude with a little audience repartee. She revealed, this being her 2nd visit to London, that she had taken a selfie in a red telephone booth and purchased a tuna and cucumber sandwich from Tesco. The title of the next song Run & Hide might have proved apt, had it not been for the way Algebra and band then launched into the bass-heavy groove, like it was make or break [and it was definitely the former]. Algebra directed the players slower, to a simmering dub reggae lilt, interpolating a line from the Londoner/crowd-pleasing Bob Marley classic Wait In Vain.
On the anthemic Right Next To You, taken from Blessett’s new album Recovery [released on BBE Records in the UK] she encouraged the audience to join in. “So y’all heard what I was singing, right?”
The room was full of blank faces. Someone even coughed.
“Ok then, you ready? Go ahead.”
Algebra then stepped away from the mic whilst nervous laughter omitted from the house. Standing back, straight as a head teacher, she pouted and fixed us all with an icy stare.
“Dum dum dum, di dee dum, errr wanna be right next to youuuu.” Mumbled Algebra, somewhat taking the piss. “What’s all that about?” She asked.
Then she started again, “I can’t be anywhere/I want you right there/No matter what I do/I wanna be right next to you.”
Now at her request everyone sang along, even the bar staff. Mid-act Algebra noticed one middle aged chap on the upper level, wearing a smart jacket and what looked like chinos, through the railings, sat with his legs wide open. With the music still rolling in the background she asked:
“You just gon’ sit there and watch me like that all night huh?”
The man smiled and nodded.
“Could you stand up for me?”
He shook his head.
“Don’t make me beg, as far as I’ve travelled? I’ve had such a long flight.”
Launching back into the finale, Algebra can’t resist one more observation: “Wait, is that a wedding ring?”
At the song’s end, only the fourth of the evening, Algebra has her first standing ovation. This is entertainment on another level, world class; the kind not witnessed since Avery Sunshine first conquered England.
Like Avery, Algebra can play and write too, strapping an acoustic guitar on for the tender ballad At This Time. Next, the catchy Eric Roberson collab Mystery leads into a beautiful rendition of Recovery highlight Writers Block – arranged differently to the poppier album cut, with just solitary piano accompaniment, the extra space giving Algebra the platform to really show off the range and depth of her vocal ability.
Things then get funky with What Happened from Algebra’s under-appreciated 2008 debut Purpose released via Kedar Entertainment. The gig ends with the Shannon Sanders co-write and current single Nobody But You – turned yet again into a Jazz Caf sing-along, Algebra inviting all of the artists onto the stage as she strides out onto the floor performing shoulder to shoulder with the punters; another moment to cherish.
For information on MusicConnex gigs go to www.musicconnex.co.uk
Algebra Blessett’s new album Recovery is out now BBE Records
Follow Dan Dodds on Twitter via @souljones