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Tank and the Bangas at The Jazz Cafe, London REVIEW

London Jazz Festival is off to a very, very strong start, with Tank and the Bangas smashing it at the Jazz Cafe last Saturday.

It’s quite amazing just how much good one video series has done for the wilful spread of great music. Live radio sessions have been a thing for decades but simply adding a video element, confining the action to a very small room and the setlist to a handful of tracks has created a means of promotion which is opening up new avenues across the industry. NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series has helped to bring numerous bands in the ever-growing, ever-vibrant world of jazz, hip-hop and RnB to light. Tank and the Bangas fall well within that category.

Not to say that the New Orleans band weren’t popular before the video surfaced, but much like The Internet, BadBadNotGood, Shabazz Places and more recently L.A. Salami, it helped thrust them to higher acclaim. It’s hard to know where to begin when describing Tank and the Bangas. Fronted by vocalist Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball, a force to be reckoned with unto herself, their music expertly blends improvisational jazz, warm chord progressions and powerful melodic choruses into something which manages to be beautiful, breathless, soulful and colossal all at once.

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Before they came on though, a more local powerhouse took to the stage to kick things off. Describing themselves as ‘neo-spoken-soul’, The Dylemma Collective features two male soprano vocalists, a female lead vocalist who phases between singing and speaking by turns and a backing band tighter python constricting a neutron star. It’s rare that a support band can have the audience so mesmerised that they almost have to be reminded that there’s more music coming afterwards, but this was one of those times.

The Jazz Cafe itself is undoubtedly one of the best venues in London. Following a recent refurbishment, their booking roster never fails to amaze, with big acts playing early evening sets before the space transforms into a club at night, usually playing acid house and disco. The acoustics and lighting are astonishing for a venue of its size and there’s nothing quite so weird as watching a neo-soul band killing it on stage whilst people eat a fancy dinner on the balcony above.

From the moment Tank and Bangas came on, the crowd was in a complete uproar. Ball is simply one of the most impressive lead vocalists ever to come out of the scene, as well as one of the most versatile, but it’s not just about her by any stretch. Albert Allenback is equally energetic as a saxophonist as he is as a flutist, Jonathon Johnson channels Jaco Pastorius so purely it’s almost scary and his brother Joshua is an astoundingly adept drummer and music director.

Tracks like ‘Quick’ and ‘Eggs Over Easy’ translate to a live setting magnificently, leaving acres of room for Ball to work and manipulate the crowd into a vibrant frenzy. I don’t think anyone was expecting them to throw out a cover of Anderson .Paak’s ‘Come Down’ though, but the audience response when they did was nothing short of lunacy, and also the reason why I haven’t been able to speak properly for the last two days.

The slower, more emotionally charged moments were every bit as potent as the faster ones. Ball first came to prominence as a slam poet, but her sustained notes and rises would have you believing that she’s Etta James reincarnated, it was a privilege to watch. As you might expect it was ‘Rollercoasters’, doubtlessly their most affecting track, which had the crowd the most entranced. Of course, by the time they got around to playing it the puddle of sweat on the floor was approach knee-height.

The interplay between the band during the set was almost as entertaining as the music itself. They first came together at a Nola open mic some six years ago, but many of them have known each other since they were college age and on that particular evening, they were on the back of a 40 day world tour. As such, they were constantly laughing, exchanging glances and generally enjoying themselves in a way that only the most attuned bands can manage.

As the show drew to a close, Ball (who was overcome with emotion) took a back seat, allowing her bandmates to close things out. It’s one of the only shows I’ve ever seen which had the crowd calling for an encore before the band had even finished their penultimate track. In the end, they didn’t even bother going off-stage, electing to just carry on as if they had.

The London Jazz Festival is only just kicking off, but this was a powerful opening salvo. The next few weeks are packed with incredible music city wide, but the decision to host such a unique, energetic act so early was a wise one, the fact that the show sold out almost immediately is testament to that. If you get the chance to catch Tank and the Bangas any time in the near future, there’s no excuse.

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