Wednesday sees the start of Crossroads broadcast by Rockpalast at the Bonn Harmonie. Sunday then could be termed ‘The calm before the storm’ with smooth jazz courtesy of the exotically named Lyambiko and the ‘Junger Männer’ backing. Definitely a show for sitting rather than standing and listening rather than dancing.
This is certainly an intriguing band assembled before me. Lyambiko herself was born Sandy Müller in Thüringen. Her bass player Robin Draganic sounds Hungarian but hails from Canada, and pianist Marque Lowenthal is American. Thank goodness for Heinrich Köbberling on drums who is (probably) as German as his name implies. As a band though we are talking about Germany’s home of Jazz as a birthplace – Berlin. Even when Draganic jokes that they are well played in now as this is the last of a 28 date tour, it’s clear these guys and girl have been playing a while longer than that together. So long in fact that I can well imagine that they all say ‘Bless You’ before one of them even coughs, such is their shared wavelength.
Early days saw Lyambiko discovering that the band she was in had once also included her father. The name Lyambiko in fact stems from her father, whom she remembers only up to around six years of age but who clearly is a big part of why she is standing in front of us singing so eloquently this evening.
She isn’t ‘in’ a band anymore though, she runs one and it’s clear that although these guys are great in their own rights she calls the shots. At 7pm when the band start playing the stage seems empty, but at 7.02pm when she walks onstage and begins to sing ‘Do you remember me?’ it isn’t. Even dressed in a simple blouse, black trousers and calf length boots the Lady has charisma to burn.
The first part of the evening is dedicated to Lyambiko’s new CD ‘Muse’ and an eclectic offering it is too, with Stevie Nicks ‘Landslide’ sharing silver disc with 50’s first Lady of Jazz Jutta Hipp, Civil rights Supporter Abbey Lincoln, and even Emily Dickinson, courtesy of the poem ‘I Went to Heaven’. It’s very much a homage to female writers in fact, and even though Charles Mingus gets a look in with ‘Goodbye pork pie hat’ it’s the lyrical version courtesy of Joni Mitchell that gets a hearing this evening. Fine songs, fine singing and fine musicianship. What more could you ask for on a Sunday evening from a Jazz concert?
A short break to refill glasses and buy CD’s followed. Which I did, in both cases, and I must point out that these should be available as 12” LP’s because the cover photography (by Uwe Arens) is top notch. This time I look for a seat on the steps of the balcony, and soon wish I’d come here earlier. The sound throughout the Harmonie is excellent tonight, but sitting a little above the rows of tables with Lymabiko and Band doing their thing in the distance is Jazz Pure for the eyes as well as the ears.
Not being a Jazz expert I find more familiar territory in part two. Probably the nearest to letting down their hair for this band is ‘Don’t let me be misunderstood’ from the tribute CD to Nina Simone ‘Saffronia’. The tempo stays up a little longer with a smoothe running ‘S’ Wonderful’ and there is certainly more oomph in the second set. A highlight though is ‘Willow weep for me’ and it leaves me wishing the Lady would head down the musical avenue of THE ‘Lady’ more often. Sadly for me though Lyambiko once stated in interview that pianist Marque Lowenthal had tried to convince her to sing more Blues and argued that Blues was inherently simple to perform. “I have great respect for the Blues. It’s music that requires you to always feel it when you play” was her reasoning for not leaning so heavily on the genre. A shame, because a Billie Holliday tribute from this Lady to that legendary Lady would be worth buying even if it came without an Uwe Arens cover photo.
Know that feeling when there’s no one in the house, but there IS a bar of good chocolate and a bottle of good wine waiting at the end of a long day? Then you will know what it feels like to attend a Lyambiko concert. Indulgent bliss – but without either the guilt or the calories.