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Review | Mama Alto was worth the wait

The adage ‘Save the Best to Last’ certainly came through for the Perth International Cabaret Festival when Mama Alto made her first appearance on the west coast in almost a decade.

Perth audiences were the first in Australia to experience the show the torch singer took to New York earlier this year where she performed at the iconic Joe’s Pub.

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Its simplicity was its beauty, an hour of Mama Alto chatting, sharing thoughts and stories and delivering some stunning interpretations of recognisable songs – all given a jazz twist.

The show opened up with a song that this year celebrates its centenary. Tea for Two is taken from the musical No, No, Nanette, usually quite a perky number under Mama Alto’s hand it was transformed into a mysterious and captivating slower number.

At the end of the song Mama Alto suddenly stopped, asking the audience if they’d like to tune to end on a high note or a low note? Before joking that it was a trick question, she’d never agree to anything so binary.

Backed by pianist Joshua Haines, the afternoon audience embarked on a sonic journey that lived up to the show’s name of Transcendent – we were immediately in another realm.

Ewan MacColl’s The First Time Every I Saw Your Face has been sung by hundreds of famous singers, but never has it evoked a feeling of time standing still as when Mama Alto delivered the tune.

There was comedic banter, including a peckish singer ordering a plate of fries from the bar, intermixed with powerful renditions of classic sings including numbers made famous by Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk.

Western Australian singer Lois Olney, who passed away just a few months ago, was tenderly remembered. The two previously worked together and a performance of Autumn Leaves was dedicated to her.

Another mind-bending performance was Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns, with Mama Alto acknowledging that the simple song from A Little Night Music has previously been morphed and transformed by many of the jazz greats.

Simply a sensational moment in time.

Later in the night Mama Alto took part in the festival’s Closing Night Gala where she performed some of the songs for a second time, but this time round with a full band – and it was phenomenal.

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