Music

And the soul lives on

Bobby Womack’s death marks the passing of another all-time greats in soul music, but he lives on in singer/songwriters David McAlmont and Guy Davies of Fingersnap.

The duo opened performed last night in the intimate setting of St James Theatre, where the audience can enjoy their glass of wine luxuriating in the comfort of their well-upholstered chairs. It was a fitting locale reminiscent of Las Vegas golden era – only the ashtrays, guys in tuxes and ladies in gowns were missing. The duo showed they meant business with a goose-bump inducing rendition of My Funny Valentine, kicking off a two hour tour-de-force of captivating and enrapturing soul music. Using his voice with the assurance and dazzling skill of a virtuoso playing a well-aged Stradivarius, McAlmont took us from almost inaudible whispers to glass-shattering falsetto passages, in a timbre so pure, strong and emotional that the audience were putty in his hands. All this was carried by Davies’ sure-footed accompaniment: dependable, yes, but also a joy in itself, at times sounding like chiming bells and at others making the audience tap their feet with his rolling riffs.

Pure soul: Fingersnap

Pure soul: Fingersnap

Seasoning their set with whimsical reminiscences and tales, Fingersnap sang crowd-pleasing favourites (was that Amy Winehouse joining in the chorus of Tears Dry On Their Own from her cloud?) and their own topical material. Hey Gene was a tender ballad dedicated to Bishop Gene Robinson, while a song about the superficiality of social media had the audience t(w)itter in sheepish recognition.

At other times, Fingersnap evoked the golden age of the blues, with Bessie Smith’s saucy Kitchen Man transporting us to the decadence of the roaring twenties. Even more astonishing in its depth of feeling and technical accomplishment was Arlen and Mercer’s American Songbook Classic Blues in the Night, with McAlmont’s powerful blues slide once again making the audience’s hair stand on end. When the show ended after an encore – including Fingersnap’s latest ballad, Blackbird, it was hard to believe that well over two hours had passed. The spine-tingling performance will stay with us for a very long time.

McAlmont and Davies are thoughtful, accomplished, funny and original – and they care deeply about their loyal audience. Last night during standing ovations, it was clear the audience loved them back with just as much passion – the music had fused performers and spectators into one body. Bobby Womack would have been proud.

 

Fingersnap play next at London’s Le Caprice.

If you’d like to see more of David, check out this moving ballad from his collaboration with Michael Nyman, The Glare.

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At the pictures, On reflection

At the pictures: Chef

Imagine ordering a lovely bit of fish. The cod is succulent and the batter crisp, the chips chunky and golden. But as you chew on your third bite, you become aware of another taste. Wait a minute… isn’t that…. heroin? Yep, the food is drenched in finely powdered Afghan smack.

So it is with Jon Favreau’s latest offering, the feel-good comedy “Chef”.  The scent of an all-star cast lures you in: Dustin Hoffman gets an airing, Scarlett Johannson’s lips pout beguilingly, Robert Downey Jr. and the positively irresistible Joh Leguizamo provide some added cool. Like fish and chips, he plot is simple and tasty (and just as imaginative). Carl Casper (Favreau) cooked his way up into the kitchen of a swish LA restaurant, but he’s creatively stifled by his boss (Hoffman). Having to choose between his well-paid job and his integrity, he walks out and re-discovers his cooking roots, while bonding with his young son and his estranged wife, the rather delicious Latina vixen Sofia Vergara.

 

Skip this Twitter commercial unless....

Skip this Twitter commercial unless….

So far, so good. The film is appetisingly shot and features a set accomplished performances, with Leguizamo – the undoubted star, at least for this reviewer – nailing his character with an enticing mix of sincerity, sexiness and good, old-fashioned simple-mindedness. (Was is Sacha Baron Cohen who coined the phrase “blow job lips”? He must have been thinking of JL).

It could all have ended so well if it weren’t for the film being saturated with product placements. Soon into the flick, it becomes apparent that we’re watching a 90 minute commercial by Twitter and Apple. The digital native pre-pubescent son teaches his retard dad how to use Twitter to his advantage – from then on, the plot is moved along by 140 character messages and every event, notable or not, involves an iPhone or an iPad. There are phone calls, text messages, tweets, selfies, Vines and one-minute-videos. It’s all rather like a tutorial in Social Media in an Apple store. In one scene, we’re even forced to endure a scripted put-down of a rival smartphone (“Is that a flat screen TV?”). Is Apple feeling the chill of Samsung’s popularity?

...you just can't get enough of ogling John Leguizamo (left)

…you just can’t get enough of ogling John Leguizamo (left)

It’s all entirely unnecessary. Yes, social media is a big part of life and has its place in the movies. But when this is blatantly sponsored by only two corporations and becomes central to the plot – even though the story could happen quite easily without any tweet being fired into cyberspace – the viewer feels abused.

So, what could have been quite a noteworthy film is irredeemably cheapened by the greed of its makers. And when then audience notices that something’s off, it’s already too late. We’re halfway through and there’s no turning back.

Companies will care little. Time and time again, product placement has proved a potent elixir for sales figures. Absent a ban on the practice – or regulation – the only tool viewers have is to boycott a film they don’t need to see.

“Chef” was one of those – until that scrumptious sous-chef in the hat came along and saved it.

 

Watch the trailer here.

 

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