Live music is back and that is a wonderful thing. I have been listening to jazz albums and the marvelous digital radio station ABC Jazz but hearing a band and a singer is a more visceral and engaging experience. That the talented Emma Pask and her excellent band happened to be the performers enhanced and enriched the experience. It was readily apparent that the musicians were enjoying a similar experience. As the initial cheers and clapping died down Emma asked the audience for another round of applause. The performers had been missing the essential element of what being a performing musician is.

The venue that was formerly The Basement is now the refurbished Mary’s Underground. Emma’s faultless singing and the band’s impeccable and accomplished performance were reminiscent of the great past acts that have graced this historic venue. Sydney is lucky to have been relatively unscathed by COVID-19 and to be able to return to a venue and artists of such exceptional quality. With social distancing the venue is pleasantly uncrowded although to make the evening viable they do have two slightly shorter shows, starting at 6pm and 9pm.

Emma Pask likes to sing standards and she likes to scat. I always think that the great jazz standards are worth singing as they are exceptionally good songs. Emma chooses well and from a variety of sources. Emma appears to have a love of scatting and she uses it to display her exquisite vocal talents without letting it dominate the evening. The band’s skills and abilities are well utilised as soloists, and as a tight and entertaining unit. The band members are Kevin Hunt (piano), Phil Stack (double bass) and Tim Firth (drums).

Emma opened the evening with a sassy number, ‘Smack Dab in the Middle’. She then introduced her 80 year old father who wandered into the venue five minutes late. She said he is always late as he acknowledged the audiences’ applause. 2020 has been that sort of a year. Next was Wayne Shorter’s ‘Black Nile’ featuring some very energetic piano and drums. A change of pace followed with Irving Berlin’s ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’. The last song of the first set was ‘I Just Found Out About Love’. It was from the musical ‘Strip for Action’, which was banned in the USA in 1956 for gratuitous nudity.

The second set opened with the very danceable Brazilian classic ‘Mas Que Nada’. Unfortunately in the time of COVID-19 there is no dancing. Harold Arlin’s ‘Let’s Fall in Love’ featured bass and piano solos, warmly encouraged by Emma. The band’s performance reminded us what a classic Jimmy Van Heusen’s ‘Darn That Dream’ is and Emma displayed her impressive dynamic range through this song. A soulful rendition of Chick Corea’s ‘You’re Everything’ was the penultimate song before the show was closed with a bluesy and COVID-19 appropriate ‘Don’t Touch Me’, a song taught to Emma by the legendary Barbara Morrison. It was the highlight of the show.

Emma Pask appeared as part of Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival, which runs until 8th November, 2020.