Margot Wuts and the Duchess Club

Hawke's Bay Arts Festival
14 October 2016 / 
Pacific Crystal Palace Spiegeltent /
By Bridie Freeman

Hawke’s Bay knew this was going to be special – Margot’s show had been sold out months ago – but I don’t think we had anticipated quite how stunning the occasion would be. For joining local diva, Margot Wuts, were some of New Zealand’s finest jazz musicians, all women, who had been brought together from around the country for this one remarkable evening.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one whose eyes filled with tears, as ‘our Margot’, wearing shimmering turquoise satin and sparkly bling like a cascade of diamonds, began softly singing  ‘Fool That I am’ to the gorgeous musical accompaniment of  her five ladies: Rosie Langabeer, acclaimed composer and “experimental musician instigator”, on piano, Tamara Smith’s exquisite flute-playing, bassist Maree Thom (terrific), Nicky Wuts on the vibraphone, (the only jazz vibraphonist in NZ, I do believe), and the incredible Rosie Burdett on drums. There was something rarefied and utterly potent in this all-female collaboration.

Rosie Langabeer’s arrangement of Margot’s songbook favourites brought a sumptuous, often surprising, range of tonal blends and rhythms, liberally overlaid with tambourines, whistles, and other percussive instruments, but never over-crowded. There was a spring-fresh lightness to the music, spangly sounds and sunshine, with an underlying liquid richness that was aurally caressing, sensuously delicious. I especially loved hearing the flute with Margot’s voice.

The dramatic shifts in emotional register from song to song felt to me like an experiential, explorative play on the “temperamental” female psyche, while showcasing the many colours and textures of Margot’s voice. From floating on the heartfelt, slightly husky, dreamy ‘Let it be Me’, for instance, to shimmying and smiling to the up-charged, Latin beats of ‘Perdido’–“a bit sloppy, a bit filthy” and clearly a whole lot of fun. And then to be transported to the sublime heights of Margot’s favourite, ‘Black is the Colour’ – you could have heard a pin drop, the squeak of a door, as the audience forgot to breathe. So there I was crying once more, my heart aching with the sheer beauty and romantic purity of this rendition, only to be swung by the next to a bold, sassy duelling dynamic with Mistress of Ceremonies Ali Beale in a surprise guest appearance, and compelled to rowdy, appreciative applause.

I did enjoy the spectacle of ‘the Duchess’ unravelling, as she gradually relinquished her regal comportment (and a certain shyness and decorum) to claim her goodtime, groovin’ self. Towards the end of the show she’d unpinned her coiffured hair, ruffling out a massive mop of ringlets with her hands, only, like any true Kiwi prima donna, to change her mind a few minutes later and to scrape it all back: “It’s too hot. It’s like having a sheep on my head.” I was waiting for her to kick off her shoes.

And the songbirds kept singing, and the something good, funky vibe of the Duchess Club jamming their last songs was an invitation to dance,  though the audience, a bit slow to take it up I thought, stuck with their more sedate seat-jiving, feet-tapping, shoulder-swaying moves.  For too soon, too soon, having just begun, the party was over – a standing ovation, an encore, “more, more” – and we spilled out breathless, enraptured, into the rosy night.

I won’t begin on the superlatives, but looking into my crystal ball, I see a sell-out show at next year’s festival.

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