Purcell Room, 19 November 2013

There is a lot of soul in Leonard Cohen’s music. Christine Tobin has covered a few of his songs in the past, now she has recorded a whole album of them, called A Thousand Kisses Deep. It is set to be released in spring 2014, and she is now touring with the programme for the next few months.

The theme of covering other, non jazz musicians’ work is introduced into the evening by Georgia Mancio, the support act, who surprised with a jazzy version of Bowie’s Life on Mars with Seú George’s Portuguese lyrics amid a solid performance of jazz standards. Her voice jumps up and down between deep and high notes with ease and joy. Her trio was completed by flute (Gareth Lockrane) and base (Geoff Gascoyne on electric and double base), no drums, no guitar, an unusual picture of three musicians all standing up next to each other. Gareth Lockrane gives an outstanding flute performance, which includes a base flute.

Cohen’s songs are so multi-layered and full of allusions they offer myriads of possibilities of reinterpretation. Christine Tobin focuses on the soul, embraces it with her voluminous voice. Her band add something to the music that isn’t there in the originals: subtlety. Cohen’s lyrics and voice are full of subtleties, but his arrangements aren’t. Christine Tobin’s band make songs like Take This Waltz and Everybody Knows come across light-footed and lively, just as serious and eerie but lacking the heaviness of the originals. Dave Whitman introduces the dark and desperate Story of Isaac with a stunning double base solo and continues a captivating dialogue with Tobin’s voice. Impressive also Adriano Adewale’s performance on percussions, subtle and precise, but very creative and with an air of lightness that supports the music but also adds a welcome light-heartedness to it. It is his third performance of the day, but there are no noticeable traces of exhaustion to be heard. The band is completed by Huw Warren, one of her earliest collaborators, on accordion and Phil Robson on guitar. They complement her strong, soft voice and are always in perfect communication with her.

From an upbeat Suzanne with Latin rhythms to a pensive and jazzy Famous Blue Raincoat, Tobin transforms the songs and makes them her own, while still conveying the aura of their creator. She covers the whole spectrum of Leonard Cohen’s music, from the early sixties to the 21st century, and strips them of any corniness that Cohen’s sometime use of violins, choirs and orchestral scores has brought to be associated with the songs. With her, the songs are dry, honest and open, and she conveys the intricately crafted poetry of the lyrics in her own way. A whole set dedicated to one songwriter could have been monotonous, but not with a songwriter as versatile as Leonard Cohen and certainly not with a singer as enthralling as Christine Tobin.