YOLANDA BROWN’S MUSIC, she says, “combines reggae, jazz and soul. It’s where my heart beats, my fingers play and my soul dances.”
And, as she springs onto the Pizza Express stage with her three saxophones and her pulsating band start playing, her listeners immediately sense her irrepressible creative energy.
The tunes from her new album Love Politics War — Million Billion Love, Heritage and General Polytricks — with their intensity, verve and a muscular sound like an Illinois Jacquet or Gene Ammons blowing within a powerful reggae beat, soon has the audience on its feet as she brings jazz back to its primal connection with dance.
From Barking but with a Jamaican heritage, she serves up a medley of Bob Marley tunes and the chorus of Is This Love? pounds all around this subterranean Soho chamber.
The Caribbean island is always near and it gets even closer on Feel No Pain, with the chorus of Hill and Gully Rider surging from her alto horn.
Her simple, vigorous melodies, sometimes march-like and borrowing from their folkish Caribbean roots bring the fire and movement of another tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler to mind.
Yet her tunes travel too, to Japan with her Tokyo Sunset or into the US songbook tradition with an earthily beautiful rendition on soprano saxophone of My Funny Valentine and she ends with a rampaging version of Hey Jude.
Audiences at this venue are rarely animated. I’ve heard hundreds of fine musicians here over many years and not experienced the same kind of response they gave to YolanDa’s music.
“I want you to feel you’re in my living room,” she declared at the outset of the gig and that’s exactly how it was — relaxed, exuberant and full of musical intelligence.