Photograph by George O’Brien
Much has been said about Laura Mvula; she was branded the “Voice of 2013″ by some, shortlisted in the ‘BBC Sound Of’ poll, is constantly placed alongside Nina Simone and even mentioned in the same breath as iconic composers like Gershwin and Porter. Although these tags and comparisons are justified, Mvula has the talent to stand-alone as an artist and her live performance is as professional as it is joyful and touching.
Marking the release of her debut, Sing to the Moon, the classically-trained Birmingham singer brought her accessible blend of soul and jazz to a sold out Tabernacle. The record has met understandable praise for its diversity and genre-defying style, but it is in the live environment that its perhaps finds its most comfortable home, sounding fuller, warmer and more uplifting. Nothing is accidental, no corners are cut; Mvula is surrounded by a full band, complete with brother-sister string section, double bass and harp, and the sound they create as a unit is effortless and polished.
‘Like The Morning Dew’ welcomes the sold out Notting Hill venue; with its explosions of harmony and colourful instrumentation, the track sets the tone for what’s to come. Immediately the 7 on stage are perfectly in sync and share beaming smiles and nods of understanding. The importance of this musicianship to the success of Mvula’s song-writing is made apparent by the selfless time she takes introducing them all, while the flattery she fails to hide hints at embarrassment but remains touching and sincere.
The aforementioned diversity comes through with the stripped back ballads ‘Diamonds’ and ‘Father Father’, which showcase her soulful tone and add a melancholic depth to the otherwise joyous set. This versatility is highlighted best by ‘She’, the track that caught everyone’s attention so serenely all those months ago; ‘Let Me Fall’ adds tempo and intricate rhythms from thoroughly impressive drummer and musical director Troy Miller, who brings experience from his work with the likes of Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson.
Closing with the uplifting, bucolic current single ‘Green Garden’, she emphasises her love of performance once again, as playful twists on the melody induce typically wide smiles from band and audience alike, even the simple claps that accompany her acapella vocal ooze rhythm and demonstrate how wonderfully caught up they are in what they are producing. The reaction that follows is as close to a standing-ovation as you could get in an already standing venue, and threatens to prompt the tears that Mvula alludes to throughout the celebratory evening, before they take great pleasure in a first playing of the up-tempo ‘That’s Alright’.
Packed with soul, joyfulness and quality musicianship, it is an almost faultless performance from a singer it is hard to believe is so new to it all. If the love that people showed her at this early London show is anything to go by, her future is as bright as the smile that rarely disappears from her face throughout the set.
Like The Morning Dew
Let Me Fall
What The Weather Will Be
Is There Anybody Out There
Sing To The Moon
Flying Without You