Photo Credit: Bartosz Wozniak Photography
It goes without saying but it’s hard not to get excited about the annual collaboration between the Exeter University Jazz Orchestra and Soul Choir. Each year the Exeter Phoenix packs out with punters both student and non, sold by the promise of both stellar sets by both acts and the now famous synthesis that forms a climax to the evening. It’s the sort of night that makes you, as an audience member, feel quite cultured but at the same time gives you an opportunity to let your hair down. It’s a red wine night, but an ample-amount-of-red-wine night.
With the show divided into two halves, the first hour or so saw both acts perform separate and well-rehearsed sets. EUJO up first were tight for the most part, and whilst some of the brass solos during their instrumental numbers weren’t as well articulated as they perhaps could have been, their sung numbers were particularly excellent. Fly Me to the Moon and Feeling Good sung by soloists Jack Newton and Rosina Orcharde respectively were extremely strong, with both performers putting their own spin on these seminal numbers effectively. In parallel to this, the Soul Choir were similarly inventive in their deployment of several familiar songs - such as The Storm is Passing Over and I Want You Back by The Jackson 5. I’m always impressed by how the Choir manage to strike a perfect balance that exhibits their undoubted enthusiasm without seeming too raucous and this was replicated on the night. That being said, the brio of both sets was apparent, and infectious.
After the intermission the Anything Goes Swing Band played a short set in an attempt to gear the crowd up for the finale. Splitting the vocal duties between four main performers, supported in turn by a group of backing singers, the set was an exuberant display of continual call and response - all underpinned by the always solid backing band. The only shame here was the audience didn’t seem particularly keen to engage in the musical dialogue, despite the entreatment from the vocalists. Still, this left Newton et. al scat singing excellently to fill the time, giving an emphatic silver lining to this slight downside.
As expected, the final collaboration between Soul Choir and EUJO was both well-drilled and euphoric, with the highlight for me being an exhilarating rendition of Like a Prayer by Madonna. The only problem was the night had to end bang on curfew despite audience calls for an encore, but of course this criticism can’t be levelled at the acts themselves. All in all, this was an excellent night of live music, one that I highly recommend getting tickets for next year. As a finalist, for me it’s a real shame I won’t have another opportunity to see this collaboration again.