Review: Sophie Foster makes us all feel good as she helps open the Perth International Jazz Festival

Sophie Foster, a WAAPA graduate and contemporary vocalist, was the main headliner for the first night of the Perth International Jazz Festival. Instead of attempting to conjure sonic textures via paragraphs of high falutin’ words, I’ll just say that her r’n’b/neo-soul stylings reminded me a lot of Alicia Keys and a little bit of Prince, two artists who I and millions of others hold in fairly high esteem.

It’s fitting, then, that the first song she led with was Alicia Keys’ cover of a Prince song, “How Come You Don’t Call Me”, a tune from Keys’ debut album Songs in A Minor. That, and her inspired cover of Bob Marley’s “Is this Love”, were my favourites.

During her hour on stage — backed up by a band that consistently complemented her beautifully — she struck a good balance between downtempo, mournful ballads and energetically loving songs which, if they were people, would physically shake every bit of calcified apathy out of you. Which is another way of saying they were thoroughly danceable songs. Even her slower and sadder croons had this equally healing quality, like a hot shower on a cold night. It was an unpretentiously good time, and that’s higher praise than you might think considering she had some things working against her before she even got on stage.

Like, by way of for instance, the venue.

The opening night for the Perth International Jazz Festival was held at a venue called The Palace, a building of which its ground floor used to be a bank. And you could feel that on some instinctual level because there was a stunning lack of atmosphere that was, well, reminiscent of a bank.

In a rudimentary kind of way it was a fine enough place: there was a lot of space for the crowd to sit, dance, or stand by the bar (no such luck for the band though; the poor bastards were tightly packed on stage like so many fruits straining the capacity of a tiny lunchbox), the sound was crisp, and the location is quite ideal.

But when you compare it to somewhere like the Ellington Jazz Club or even the Malt Supper Club, there’s certainly this nagging sense that some essential conduit between you and the performers is missing. Also, there appeared to be a completely stark ceiling and so occasionally your attention was drawn to gnarly industrial ceiling-innards; I’m yet to decide whether this was totally dreadful or a funny oddity.

Perhaps all of that accounted for the dreary and unresponsive crowd that Sophie Foster had to work to win over (but, to be fair, maybe not) and it’s to her credit that by the time it was over there were more than a few groans that signalled “aww, already?” and almost every tune roused rapturous applause; heck, I even saw one guy un-ironically mimicking the drummer during one particularly awesome solo.

Miss Foster ended things on a rousing note with Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady”. She then once again thanked everybody and left the stage despite the pleas of “more! More!” and I couldn’t help but like her even more for savvily abiding by a truism: always leave them wanting more.

Sophie Foster performed at The Palace as part of the Perth International Jazz Festival on Friday, 26th May.