(Cadogan Hall. 30 May 2018. Review by Kate Delamere)
It’s not often an unsung hero is brought to life through the historical sounds of jazz classics.
But that’s exactly what pianist and singer Karsu Donmez and her band did when they told the story of the founder of Atlantic Records Ahmet Ertegun at Cadogan Hall. In a hypnotic, foot-tapping one hour and 40-minute set, this enigmatic doyenne kept a packed audience captivated at the 950-seater venue with her tale about one of the most important figures in modern recording history that signed some of the biggest names in jazz, R&B and soul after the Second World War.
A late start due to the band’s cancelled plane after a thunder and lightning strike failed to knock this six-strong group off balance as they kicked up their own storm with a unique twist on old jazz and blues greats.
Like a true shaman, Karsu’s eclectic voice effortlessly paid homage to the distinctive sounds of past artists like Ben E King (Spanish Harlem), Sam Cooke (A Change is Gonna Come), Duke Ellington (Don’t Mean a Thing If You Ain’t Got That Swing), Ray Charles (Mess Around), Aretha Franklin (R.E.S.P.E.C.T) and Ella Fitzgerald (Putting on the Ritz). She expertly seduced us through moods and seasons as we listened to different generations and genres in an energetic, fast-paced set.
Randell Heije gave an unforgettable, lusty, soul-soaring performance on trumpet to the Rolling Stone’s Paint it Black and guitarist Ulrich de Jesus hit notes I didn’t think existed in his interpretation of Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused, prompting a standing ovation. Daniel Eskens on bass and Yoran Hoop on drums were the rhythmic backbone of this crew, slowing and speeding up the tempo as well as adding flare of their own when needed.
Karsu kept a mesmerised audience in the palm of her hand with her soulful version of Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton, tailoring the lyrics to match the colour of her own “long black hair”! And throughout the diverse set she kept us focused on the funky beat of Ertegun’s life and the impact he made on hers in between playing the electrifying tunes. There was no one better to tell his story than this woman whose precocious talent was spotted playing piano as a child in her dad’s restaurant in Amsterdam. Like Ertegun, she shares his Turkish nationality and, like him, fell in love with music in the smoky jazz clubs of New York. Karsu blended those influences in her show by adding a haunting Turkish flavour to her jazz, pop mix that was truly hair-curling.
Sadly, she never had the privilege of meeting the philanthropist, who founded Atlantic Records with Herb Abramson in October 1947. She recalled how she tried to contact her idol three days too late after he died aged 83 on 14 December 2006 following a fall at a Rolling Stones gig in New York.
But fortunately for us, Karsu channeled her passion for Ertegun into the creation of this show.
She certainly brought the legend back to life and ensured he will always be remembered.
“Who are you? What’s inside your soul?” Ertegun used to ask artists like Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles before signing them to his label. Like a magician he’d draw their natural rhythm out of them before propelling them into the spotlight and onto the musical world stage.
Maybe now is the time the same question was asked of this 28-year-old shaman, whose versatile voice can take on the greats.
“Who are you, Karsu? What’s inside your soul?”
I for one want to sway to the rhythm of this young woman’s beat because, like Ertegun, whatever she creates will be the legacy of a legend.