Twelve Women Good and Strong make the Vortex Foundation Band

By Philippa Jones

Annie Whitehead's big band of women musicians put in a stellar performance at the Vortex as part of the London Jazz Festival. By turns rambunctious, subtle, humorous, and always earnest, the band coalesced in a remarkably organic manner. Embracing lyricism, contemporary jazz forms, and Latin rhythms, their compositions enabled the band to explore the lighter emotional textures of the music within a very female circle of mutual respect.

The seven-strong brass section produced driving blasts but also fractured naturally, allowing each player her own space. Angèle Veltmeijer's tenor sax solos were received joyously. Annie Whitehead, elegant as always on the trombone, provided a contrast with her fellow trombonist Gail Brand's more intense and edgier style. Whilst maintaining focus, the rhythm section was relaxed and collaborative - Andrea Vicari pre-eminent on piano, Josephina Cupido an engagingly supportive drummer, and Alison Rayner reliably groovy on bass.

Carol Grimes came on stage to sing and to make the band twelve. Elfin-like in appearance, she could have shattered glass bricks at a distance. It's hard to account for such grace and volume emerging from so small a frame. Gently raunchy with her opening number, then later mischievous with the encore Little Red Top, hers is a miracle of charm and vocal control. Another class act came from the wonderful guitarist Deirdre Cartwright who with Got my Modem Working showed how she can set the groove for everyone on the planet.

Launched by the Vortex Jazz Foundation in order to save the club, Annie Whitehead's band is the Vortex Foundation Band. If their contribution is anything to go by, the long-term artistic future of the enterprise is guaranteed. More, more, more.