Jazz singers can have a difficult choice to make: go for the old standards or try your own material. Either way you’re likely to invite tricky comparisons.
At the Playhouse on Friday, Zara McFarlane chose a path between the two for one of the final gigs of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, mostly showcasing her own works but throwing in some interesting covers too.
Her version of Night and Day had a rhumba-esque opening but failed to commit to the motif right the way through, whilst she stuck with a more traditional take for Favourite Things. More of a surprise was her encore performance of Police and Thieves, featuring some delicious bass work.
Of her own material, More Than Mine was the standout track, a lilting tale of lost love mixing insecurity and independence and keeping McFarlane clearly at its heart.
That wasn’t true of every piece: she needs to do more to own the stage and rein in her band, who too often indulged themselves rather than serving her and at one point were noticeably in-fighting over who got to solo during an instrumental break. Improvisation is a core part of jazz playing, but it starts with carrying a melody.
Zara McFarlane has the voice and the writing talent to be a star: she just needs to believe it a bit more herself.