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Ronnie Scott's, London 31 July 2007

This is a good time to be DK Ibomeka. With a vocal range that can effortlessly switch from baritone to near falsetto at the turn of a phrase, and with an with an easy going stage manner, and a live set that fluidly shifts from the languid to the up-tempo, taking in blues, funk, and soul through to jazzy inflected standards, DK is a vocalist for all seasons. Throw in a couple of light hearted self penned relationship narratives from his debut ‘Love Stories’ CD, and it is readily apparent that DK is ideally positioned to slip into a post Lou Rawls role as an expressive interpreter of song, while keeping his stylistic options open.

Born in Nigeria, and hailing from Canada with a road tested band admirably marshalled by the keyboard playing Michael Shand, DK made the most of a surprise entrance. While all eyes were focussed on the band playing a gentle intro to Ray Charles’s ‘I Believe to My Soul’ DK emerged from the shadows, at the back of the room to fill the Ronnie Scott’s with the deepest timbre imaginable.

Looking like a slightly taller version of the boxer Lennox Lewis - complete with dreads and oversized suit, DK quickly established his stage presence before taking us on a journey of vocal pyrotechnics that took in covers of Nina Simone, Joe Williams, Screaming Jay Hawkins and Ray Charles with whom he opened and closed an engaging one hour set. DK also showed he is a growing song-writer with a talent for both humorous and wistful lyrics, as evidenced by two self penned songs from the album, the jocular ‘I’ll Be Anybody’, and the rueful reflections of the shuffle ‘So Long’.

In between times, DK impressed the early evening crowd with his willingness to fill the room with a series of extended vowels with which he occasionally emulated Al Jarreau, as well as some effortless vocal swoops as part of a couple of deep toned ballads and even some jazzy scat singing. He dug deep for an unlikely but wholly convincing adaptation of Lennon & McCartney’s ‘Oh! Darling’, transforming the tough rocker into a very slow blues complete with a call and response vocal section with the enthusiastic crowd,

But as if to emphasize his vocal confidence, he name checked Johnny Hartman before slipping into the first of a handful of voice and piano duets explorations, on the very deliberately enunciated ‘Dedicated To You’. It was in the middle of this smooth ballad that DK breathlessly held a note and extending his arm in a sweep around the room, while simultaneously retracting the mike as if to let the note hang in the air.

DK also demonstrated his ability to pair together two radically different takes on the blues, digging deep for Nina Simon’s smouldering ‘Sugar in My Bowl’, and upping the tempo for a fairly accurate reading of Joe Williams’ version of Memphis Slim’s ‘Everyday I Have the Blues’. Guitarist Mark Patterson finally came to terms with his small amp set up to deliver some telling notes before DK rounded things off with some accomplished scat singing.

As with many crossover vocalists, DK sometimes teetered on the brink of that ill defined divide between jazz, blues and soul on the one hand, and cabaret on the other, but with a voice like his and the sheer delight he displays when achieving several moments of extraordinary vocal excellence, that is a small stylistic price to pay.

And while he may have ditched the demons of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on ‘I Put a Spell On You’ he grimaced, gesticulated, and once again momentarily eschewed the mike to, wring every last drop of emotion from the song in the style of Nina Simone.

DK and his band seemed genuinely delighted by the rousing reception at the end of the set and added a gospel style outro on top of another brief but excellent electric piano embellishment from Michael Shand.

DK Ibomeka is big man with a god given talent and it merely remains to be seen in which context he will be persuaded to use his magnificent vocal prowess in the future.

Review by Pete Feenstra

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