Van Morrison Launches Born To Sing: No Plan B at Ronnie Scott’s
Despite high ticket prices, the return of Van Morrison to London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s—after an absence of six years—was completely sold-out weeks before the Oct. 2–3 event.
Morrison had come back to the famed Frith Street jazz shrine, where he clearly felt at home, to mark the release of Born To Sing: No Plan B, his second outing for Blue Note records. Morrison came to Ronnie Scott’s with his best band in years, following a recent performance at an outdoor festival in his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, where Morrison recorded the new studio album. Born To Sing is his jazziest release in years, with modal, bluesy and closely worked-out arrangements of 10 new songs.
Opening the set with the 1967 classic “Brown Eyed Girl,” Morrison, 67, stood at the microphone, looking out inscrutably behind dark glasses at the packed club, as the second house audience settled quickly just after 10 p.m. for a breezier version of the pop hit.
Morrison played alto saxophone and later switched to keyboards and formidable harmonica during the show. The arrangements, at times, allowed him to lock in with the horn section in some detail. But it was Morrison’s singing that everyone had come to hear, and he was in fine form. The band was directed by Paul Moran on keyboards and trumpet, with Paul Moore on bass, Jeff Lardner on drums, Rod Quinn on percussion and vocals, Dave Keary on guitar, Chris White on tenor/baritone saxophones and flute, and Alistair White on trombone and tuba.
Each band member maintained poise throughout the set, and Moran obviously understood Morrison in terms of tempo shifts. Moran’s accompaniment throughout was just right for the context of the show, and his keyboard playing shined on the later organ sections.
From the new album, Morrison chose to sing the evocative “Mystic Of The East” (in reference to the part of Belfast in which he grew up); a tender “Open The Door (To Your Heart),” which was released as a single; and the catchy “Close Enough For Jazz” during the 75-minute set.
Morrison also delivered an up-tempo version of “Only A Dream” from his album Down The Road. The alternate version of the song set the scene for the program to follow. He added harmonica to the later, bluesy numbers, with highlights such as Sonny Boy Williamson’s tune “Take Your Hands Out Of My Pocket” receiving a great, spontaneous audience reaction. The people on the left-hand side of the club whooped and laughed, digging the vibe on the “Green Onions”-like song “Help Me.” But on “St. James’ Infirmary,” from Morrison’s first Blue Note album (2003’s What’s Wrong With This Picture), the band really stretched out. Morrison was in good spirits. “Welcome to the breakfast show,” he quipped at one point well into the set.
The audience also started to get its kicks when the Them-era cover “Baby Please Don’t Go” slid swiftly into “Here Comes The Night.” There was also a new, sparkling arrangement of “Moondance,” which Morrison performed much better than he did during his last visit to Ronnie Scott’s. There was a palpable feeling of well-being in the room when he sang “Jackie Wilson Said.”
After all these years, the songs still resonated, but the heart of the program could have very well been the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse ballad “Who Can I Turn To?” It was the night’s only slow song, one that Morrison had recorded at Ronnie Scott’s for his 1996 collaboration with Georgie Fame, How Long Has This Been Going On. But this time, Morrison delivered it very tenderly. It was one example of an overall great show—full of character, and clearly close enough for jazz.