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posted 18/11/2019

Review: Lakecia Benjamin at the SIWJF

Reviewed Friday 15 November 2019

Reviewed by Sonia de Freitas

With a stellar resume collaborating with big name superstars like Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, The Roots, Missy Elliot…, my expectations were high for what headliner saxophonist and NYC native, Lakecia Benjamin, would offer Australian audiences as part of the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival produced by SIMA. Did Lakecia deliver? Hell yes she did!

Performing with 10-piece band Pharos, I knew going in that Lakecia was playing with some of the top notch musicians that the Australian jazz scene had to offer. Pharos took the stage and eased into the festivities of the night with their mellow tones changing between their straight and swing feels in the opening number, Monk’s Bye-Ya arranged by Helen Sung. There were stand out solos by Alex Silver on trombone, Loretta Palmeiro on saxophone and an explosive punch from Ali Foster interjecting on the drums. This group prides themselves on playing fresh national contemporary jazz music; through their alluring sonic waves, they breathed life into the music of Ellen Kirkwood, Harri Harding, Andrea Keller many others in the program that followed.

Now, to bring in some NYC funking attitude, enters the woman of the hour quipping something to the effect that the women are in the house to show ‘em how it’s done. This, of course, set off a wave of enthusiastic applause through the cheeky audience. Wow! From the first note Lakecia played in the number Bluish by Glenn Doig, she captivated me with her confidence, expression and feel good vibes- bringing the fun, bringing the energy.

As much of a star that Lakecia is, she gracefully shared the space with the incredible women of Pharos up on the blue-pink-purple glittering stage, balancing their show[wo]manship and individual style with her own through the conversational dynamic of the solos. Highlights absolutely have to be; Hillary Geddes’s, enthralling guitar solo in Alex Silver’s cool jive-grooving composition; the premier of Cheryl Durongpasitkul’s (APRA/AMCOS Young Composers Mentorship recipient) imaginative and colourful work; and Lakecia’s dexterous solo that took flight, without missing one steadfast beat, in the performance of Jenna Cave’s piece, Long-Lost Frenemy.

At one point in the show, Lakecia broke into a full on gospel outburst, blues-ing and growling it up with a soul-grabbing cadenza, activating me to reach down into the depths of my heart to praise the gods of jazz for their bountiful gifts of syncopated flow and vivacious tunes. Her righteous saxophone vibrations awakened my dormant inner world to its full spirited potential for the night

Lakecia Benjamin has the gift of an assured mastery of her instrument to create a tone that sits so well in the sweet spot of your ear that you eagerly clutch onto every consecutive note she plays. On top of all that, her stage presence- a combination of sheer confidence, good humour and that delicious NYC style, makes for an inspiring experience that had some of the most reserved in the audience toe tapping, knee bobbing, or (my favourite) uninhibitedly moving their bodies in all sorts of interesting shapes to the music. 

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