Gig review: SARI & THE ENGINE ROOM – Surya, London, 7 December 2015

SARI & THE ENGINE ROOM – Surya, London, 7 December 2015

New York vocalist Sari Schorr has the effortless range and sense of drama to give any song real purpose and tonight she connects with her showcase crowd as if delivering a personal message face to face.

And it’s her unabashed ability to draw us into the core of her songs that makes her a little bit different from the norm. She’s also supported by a fine band The Engine Room who after a tentative opening start to relax and illuminate the substance of her songs, allowing the imperious guitarist Innes Sibun to build a series of climatic solos either side of Sari’s emotive phrasing.

So far so good, but it quickly becomes apparent that the New York Blues Hall of Fame inductee and ASCAP Songwriter Award winner has some decisions to make about the direction of her material.

SARI & THE ENGINE ROOM – Surya, London, 7 December 2015

For while she’s got a multi octave vocal range to match real emotional commitment to some autobiographical lyrics, she has a fight on her hands not to be press ganged into the commercially attractive, but artistic dead hand of the mid-tempo, middle of the road Radio 2 mould.

Her musical CV also tells a tale, for while she’s made a splash in the blues-rock world by guesting with the likes of  Joe Louis Walker and Popa Chubby, she’s also known as a jazz singer and has collaborated with leading country artists such as Kris Kristofferson and Rosanne Cash. It all points to a versatile,  in demand vocalist happy to explore different musical genre’s, but who has now reached a point in her career where she needs to nail her own direction.

And tonight is all about introducing us to her own style, which in the New Year will lead to a Mike Vernon produced solo album for Manhaton records.

SARI & THE ENGINE ROOM – Surya, London, 7 December 2015

An expansive set goes through the card, as she starts out as a blues-rocker, embracing soul and even subtle elements of funk along the way, before finally hitting base on a startling big rock arrangement of ‘Black Betty’ that recalls Robert Plant in his pomp.

She’s a performer for whom making an essential connection with her crowd is everything, to the point that when a song really burns she pushes her vocals to the limit. But there’s more, as having delivered her lines passionately she adds dramatically mimed shapes as the band stretches out behind her.

Things really come together on ‘Demolition Man’ and she changes her style again on a big blues ballad, which may have been called ‘Letting Go’, though its hard to tell, because while she exhorts us to share her feelings she never announces the song titles.

SARI & THE ENGINE ROOM – Surya, London, 7 December 2015

Her band hits the best groove of the night on ‘Oklahoma’, which is built on Kevin Jefferies stolen bass line from the Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson era. Her preamble tells us enough about a journey to an abortive TV appearance to make it something all of her own.  The band purrs perfectly as the song lilts, grooves and moves to an end-piece rap on which she references different place names.

SARI & THE ENGINE ROOM – Surya, London, 7 December 2015

Everything flows into the climactic reworking of the Lead Belly’s ‘Black Betty’, which is denuded of its manic Ram Jam style riff-driven stomp and re-imagined as a slow building, big rock arrangement.

SARI & THE ENGINE ROOM – Surya, London, 7 December 2015

It’s a great finish to a set full of promise which given a few original arrangements like this will surely bring her rich reward.

Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Mark Hughes

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 26 July.. In the first hour David pays tribute to the blues/rock guitarist Peter Green.

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