Sunday, April 2, 2017


Emma Pask 

Performance on 31st March, 2017 reviewed by Bill Stephens

Her talent was first spotted by multi-instrumentalist James Morrison during one of his regular high school visits when she was just 16 years old, Emma Pask sang with the Morrison band that very night and went on to collaborate with Morrison for the next twenty years building up a reputation, both nationally and internationally, as one the country’s finest jazz singers.

Pask reached a much wider audience, however, in 2013 when as a contestant in the second series of the television talent show, “The Voice”, her version of the Sergio Mendes samba, “Mas Que Nada”, so impressed International judge, Ricky Martin that he offered to feature her on his next album. An offer which never materialised.

For her concert at The Street Theatre, Pask performed a program which ranged through familiar jazz classics like “Smack, Dab in the Middle”, “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Hard Hearted Hanna” and “Get Out of Town” which allowed her opportunity to display her impressive command of jazz vocal dynamics, impeccable intonation, and vocal scatting improvisations.

She included a thrilling extended version of “Mas Que Nada”, sung in Portuguese, as well as a masterful interpretation of Cuban writer, Osvaldo Farres’ popular “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas”, which Doris Day made famous as “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps”. She also dazzled with her perfect diction in the tongue-twisting novelty, “Crickets Sing for Anamaria” which Marcus Valle wrote with his brother, Paulo.

Sprinkled among the up-tempo offerings were several exquisitely performed ballads including the Lennon/McCartney classic, “Here, There and Everywhere”, Irene Kitchings lovely, “Some Other Spring”, and Carmen McRae’s “Dream of Life” for which Kevin Hunt provided a hauntingly beautiful accompaniment on piano.

A request from an audience member was obliged with a swinging account of Lerner and Lowe’s “Wouldn’t It be Lovely” for which her backing musicians delighted by providing a spontaneous, and rather brilliant, improvised accompaniment.

But then when those musicians are Kevin Hunt on piano, Jonathan Zwartz on double bass, and Tim Firth on percussion, would you expect anything less?  Their beautifully crafted, impeccably played accompaniments were sheer delight.  So also was the elegantly presented Street Theatre stage, with its tastefully dappled lighting, and excellent sound creating an ambiance which added immeasurably to the enjoyment of this concert.

Emma Pask is at the height of her powers as a singer, with the ability to quickly establish an easy rapport with her fellow artists and her audience with her open, sunny disposition and delightful smile. Her attention to every detail of her vocal delivery is obvious, so it was surprising that she doesn’t appear to have devoted similar attention to finessing her stagecraft.

Too often the professionalism of her performance was compromised by her tendency to turn her back to the audience during the applause to instruct her musicians.  Surely the set list should be decided before coming on stage. Was it really necessary to count in the band, when her musical director is one of the best accompanists in the business?  That’s his job.

Too much time was wasted on vacuous connecting dialogue that was often repetitive and uninformative, resulting in the impression that the performance had not been properly prepared. This time would have been better utilised by offering more songs, which, after all, is what her audience had paid to hear. Pask is too good a performer to allow her brilliance to be tarnished by tardy stagecraft.

      This review is also published in Australian Arts Review.