From 2015. Opening with Betty Carter’s ‘Tight’ this was the second night of the Australian singer-pianist’s first ever live shows in London. The song choice was appropriate given that it is on McKenzie’s Impulse debut We Could Be Lovers and doubly so as former Betty Carter drummer Gregory Hutchinson was in her band sitting opposite on the small Pizza Express stage.
An ex-student of Berklee in Boston, and mentored over the years by trumpeter James Morrison, 27-year-old McKenzie’s new album follows four years on from Don’t Tempt Me and there were several songs from that album included here besides the title track, her take on ‘I Won’t Dance’ had a certain zing to it.
Gushing to the audience about how great the coffee is in London and, a little more uneasily, grilling them too about which Rodgers and Hart songs they knew (answer there came none) before singing ‘Little Girl Blue’, it was inescapable to draw comparisons with a young Diana Krall and the Australian certainly has star quality to burn, with her megawatt smile and at-ease-with-herself manner. Accompanying her besides Hutchinson were double bassist Tom Farmer and seven-string guitarist Jo Caleb, who featured on an intimate duo with the singer on ‘Moon River,’ one of the evening’s highlights.
The quirky Franco-Brazilian ‘Quoi, Quoi, Quoi’ displayed one aspect of McKenzie’s songwriting ability – she self-effacingly referred to it as her ‘silly’ song – while the playful ‘That’s It I Quit’ was more of a romp but again illuminated the fun side of her writing personality. I wasn’t so convinced when she sang the blues. Yet nonetheless this was a performance that got better and better as the evening wore on.