Even before the show starts, I´m stunned to be able to see Van Morrison in this great historic venue. Yes, it´s a hole in the wall, under the bridge, near Portobello Road, but when you´re inside, it´s an adventure of purple and black. On fourth row, we´re just twelve people, the gallery feels close, the atmosphere is warm and inviting in an extremely intimate surrounding.
Van Morrison enters the stage with a band that is completely new for me, save for the great back-up singer Dana Masters. I was familiar with the Joey DeFransesco collaboration, but as I come to understand Joey also brings his own great musicians with him, both on drums, saxophone and guitar. He himself, reigns supreme behind the hammond organ the whole night, the hammond just occasionally replaced by magnificent playing of the trumpet with sordin – each time reminding me of the tones from Miles Davis, one of the very many great musicians he has joined on stage through the years. Physically he resembles Black Pete, he´s like the Solomon Burke of the hammond organ, and he is all music. I´ve seen Van with many great keyboard players through the years, but this is something more and different. Of course it´s jazz, but it´s also more than jazz, it also got a kind of rock attitude when he attacks the keys from behind. What a musician – and Van loves him, that´s for sure.
We can feel it from the start, the night is gonna be special. Van is concentrated and into the music, obviously very much inspired by Joey and the band, understandably also by the terrific room of Subterania.
My love for Van Morrison was always about the magic of his voice. I´ve never seen him with other than very competent and great musicians, but still, for me, I´ve always judged the great shows by his own vocal ambition the specific night, the inspiration and performance, his will or ability to transcend the possibilities of the human voice, his eternal struggle to be a human saxophone. In some of the shows I´ve seen through the last years, this kind of magic doesn´t always happen – the show is always good, but some of them lacks the spontaneity and the improvisation that exceeds the almost always technical perfect performance and brings it to the level we know only he can reach.
But, lucky me, and lucky us who were present, this is just one of those nights where it all comes together as a holy trinity – the band, the songs and the singer. We recognize it for the first time in an extraordinary version of “Miss Otis Regrets”, where Mr Morrison gets to the deepest well of his rich soul singing. Chicken skin music. I´ll never forget it. But this was only the start. Van was lifted by Joey and the band, and the band was lifted by Van. The dynamics in the show was incredibly moving, Van nodding to Joey, to the guitarist or to the virtuoso saxophone player, the solos is on and everything fits like a glove in a blue heaven of jazz and blues. Van also brought his own love for saxophone, playing it the way he sings, a great example in his own “Magic Time”.
The show is mostly based on the songs from the forthcoming album, “You´re Driving Me Crazy” (with Joey DeFransesco) and last years “Versatile”. The title song makes its third appearance in Morrisons discography, after being included on “Too Long In Exile” (1993) and on “Keep Me Singing” (2016). He sings and laughs a great version of “Broken Record”, and includes a couple more of his old classics, among them a fabulous version of “The Way Young Lovers Do”, reaching back to his first solo masterpiece, “Astral Weeks”, and reminding us that he always was a jazz singer. That, too. The song is also included in a new version on the new album.
Yes, Van Morrison wants to be a saxophone, and his breathing technique for his singing and for his playing looks very much a like, bending his knees, head back, breath in, throwing himself into the song or the solo. During the night he also plays the harmonica a few times, hinting back to the times of blues diving with “Them”.
Towards the end of the show a great version of another jazz standard, “Moondance”, are slowly drifting into “My Funny Valentine”, building a smooth bridge between Van Morrison and the tradition, like he always have been striving for, more than ever the last years, focusing on cover versions in his favorite genres, with “Roll With The Punches”, “Versatile” and, the one we are waiting for, “You´re Driving Me Crazy”. While he on the last albums not always succeed in getting the feelings and heartbreak through to the listener, this night is different, hearing this live is different, and this night we never doubt the depth in his emotions towards the songs and through the songs. This was a night we´ll never forget. And it was close enough for jazz. Thanks, Van. And Joey.