HALF a century has rolled by since Van Morrison recorded his second album Astral Weeks. He was a sprightly 22 at the time and has since described it as a song-cycle of ‘poetry and mythical musings channelled from my imagination’.
Over the years the record – a blend of blues, folk, jazz and rock – has acquired cult status and rightly so. Its eight tracks, from the magnificent opening (Astral Weeks) through to the rather sombre finale (Slim Slow Rider), are works of beautifully crafted art. As potent today as they were back in 1968.
As part of the London Jazz Festival, multi-instrumentalist Orphy Robinson brought together an eclectic band of musicians to play Astra Weeks from start to finish. An interpretation founded on a mix of soul, blues and jazz.
Singers Joe Cang, Sahra Gure, Zara McFarlane and Sarah Jane Morris flitted on and off stage as required, all imposing their own personal interpretations on Morrison’s work. They were supported in swashbuckling style by Justina Curtis (piano and electric piano), Mo Nazam (acoustic guitar), Tony Remy (guitar), Rowland Sutherland on flute, Dudley Philips (bass), Kate Shortt on cello and a joyous Katie Patterson on drums. Oh and of course Robinson quietly co-ordinating everything on vibraphone.
There was not a foot (note) put wrong, with Cang and Gure combining perfectly on opening tracks Astral Weeks and Beside You. McFarlane then took over with her version of Sweet Thing – Shortt, Patterson and Curtis lending great support.
Morris’s blues version of Cyprus Avenue was infused by the vibraphone of Robinson while Gure completed the first set with The Way Young Lovers Do, complemented by Sutherland on flute.
After a short break, Morris gave a wonderfully pared back version of Madam George before giving way to McFarlane and her version of Ballerina – Remy excellent on guitar. The final track, Slim Slow Sider, was performed to perfection by Cang and Gure – as complementary as salt and pepper.
The finale was swashbuckling with all four singers on stage to belt out a number of Morrison’s biggest hits – Moondance, Crazy Love and Jackie Wilson Said. A perfect ending to a fantastic night. A fitting tribute to a magnificent musician.