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Review: Van Morrison’s Masterpieces with Vince Jones

Music

Van Morrison’s music can be many things — spiritual, yearning, joyful, devoted, loose, even menacing. Whatever the mood, it is masterful, and a big challenge for any singer inspired to tackle its intricacies.

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Vince Jones gave tracks from two of Morrison’s best albums, Astral Weeks and then Moondance, a wonderful airing before an enthusiastic audience at the Festival Theatre last night.

The opening act was Adelaide’s own The New Cabal, with special guest James Muller playing guitar. Their short, eclectic setlist demonstrated skill and pleasure in performance, including an unlikely but successful jazz version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression”. A band to look out for.

Jones’s own Astral Orchestra was a delight. Under the direction of pianist Matt McMahon, the seven-piece ensemble provided beautifully textured backing and any number of delightful solos. It might have been too much to expect some vocal backing, à la the original songs, though that was certainly conjured in some of the orchestration.

Morrison’s voice is deeper and his inflections often quite different than those of Jones, who wisely interpreted rather than imitated the classic tracks of the two seminal albums.

Despite a huskiness in his voice that saw him straining at times, Jones was in command of the material, standing characteristically with his hands behind his back and tapping his feet. Restrained in his movements, he was yet faithful to Morrison’s special mixture of inspired vocal abandon and sometime brooding intensity, taking opportunities to swoop around notes and to scat here and there.

It was distracting to see Jones constantly scrolling through the songs’ lyrics on a stand-mounted iPad, and it did reduce his engagement with the audience. That was certainly more generous, however, than Morrison himself at the Thebarton Theatre many years ago, when he gave the whole performance with his back to the patrons.

Numerous highlights in performing Astral Weeks included the powerful swing of “The Way Young Lovers Do” that retained the propulsive energy of the original, and the nuances that Jones and the whole band drew in rendering “Madame George”, complete with a controlled finish as Eugene Ball’s trumpet followed Jones’ vocal line.

If the bluesy “Slim Slow Slider” was a bit ponderous, “Sweet Thing” and the sentimental “Ballerina” showed Jones embrace of the streaming lyrics, while also underlining the importance of the double bass in the album.

If anything, the Moondance section of the show lifted things a notch. Jones gave “Crazy Love” its full due and the audience loved it. So, too, the rousing chorus of “Caravan” and the sweet flow of “Into the Mystic”, while they got to join in on the chorus of “Everyone”, which featured a mesmerising saxophone solo from Tim Wilson.

It seemed that the song everyone wanted most was the eponymous “Moondance”, and Jones did not fail, with Antony Floyde (drums) and Ben Hauptman (guitar) also coming to the fore with solos here.

Underscoring Morrison’s Irish roots, Jones paired with McMahon’s piano playing to sing “The Parting Glass” as a brief encore.

The Morrison project is an ambitious one but it was beautifully executed.

Van Morrison’s Masterpieces with Vince Jones and the Astral Orchestra was presented at the Festival Theatre for one night only as part of a national tour.

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