Veronica Swift ★★★★
Foundry 616, November 6
Remember when music exploded with the shock of the new? It was miraculous that sound could be so thrilling, moving, mind-expanding and even life-defining. But, inevitably, the older you grew and the more you heard, the harder it was to replicate that feeling – at least until Veronica Swift stepped on stage and immediately sang the fastest version of I Get a Kick out of You I’ve heard. Suddenly, she wound back the years, and it was almost like hearing jazz for the first time, again.
It’s not that Swift is fiendishly original – you hear echoes of Ella and Sarah, of Anita O’Day and even Doris Day. It’s that she makes each song fizz with excitement, as though those precursors never existed, and she’s just invented the idiom; just invented scatting. Scatting? Whoa. This was scary, with every solo a revelation: a fresh torrent of surprises, ferocious virtuosity and supreme musicality, culminating in a staggering improvisation on You Don’t Know What Love Is.
She also unlocked every lyric, never treating them as mere runways to improvisational lift-off. She lived them, word by word, singing As Long as He Needs Me at a whisper and making it bleed vulnerability, and re-contextualising Confession by running it into the wall of sadness that is The Other Woman. She could make her voice glassy, sultry, girlish or even give it an autumnal glow that belied her years.
Effervescent and charming as a performer, she was also a decisive band-leader, her snappy, challenging arrangements realised by locals Matt McMahon (piano), Ashley Turner (bass) and drummer Andrew Dickeson (drums), who will be more at ease in her second concert.
Swift’s father was the bebop pianist Hod O’Brien (who worked with Oscar Pettiford) and her mother is the singer Stephanie Nakasian (who worked with Jon Hendricks). Jazz and improvisation are in her blood, therefore. Do not miss her. She is sharp, sassy, funny, inventive and hip – and will make you feel marvellously young.
Veronica Swift is at the Sydney International women’s Jazz Festival, Foundry 616, on November 8.