In the mood-lit back corner of the King St Brewhouse was an escape of a venue that provides
separation from the throng of Darling Harbour’s seemingly ‘Wet Dream’ themed harbour cruises, strolling ice-cream licking couples and general Friday night debauchery.
The Terry Romanio Project opened with a funk fusion sextet almost entirely made up of students of the Australian Institute of Music. You can see and hear the strong Jazz ethos amongst the group as the round-robin style of improvisation began early, each band member demonstrating a professional level of knack on their instruments. The male vocal feature has serious bite-your-bottom-lip qualities and, with eyes closed, could easily be mistaken for male-alto soul vocals from the likes of King Floyd. Sax-heavy, wave organ supplemented with the skankiest of guitar sounds and bass you could feel between your ribs, the band produced some impressive dance-sexy funk grooves.
The debut show of Lana Rita and The Soul Beats began with the five-piece Soul Beats arriving on stage in dapper waiter-staff attire and launching into an instrumental tune. The sax and guitar ran modal Jazz-suggesting lines and solos, while the rhythm section locked into their feel, setting it in stone: a constant that marks the Soul Beats’ dependability.
Arriving on stage soon after, the plunge-dress donning Lana Rita jumped straight into a classic: Shining Star by Earth, Wind and Fire. Smirking into the microphone with a “let’s get funky, baby” and actually pulling it off, I can no longer be held accountable for my insuppressible edging smile, my foot thumping, and doing the shameless white-guy head bop.
Her voice switched between Amy Winehouse and Chaka Khan from vocal register to vocal register, but was in some way too distinct from either to ever be called an impersonation.
The set list was well drafted and songs like the slow, intimate and charming re-harmonisation of Jessie-J’s Price Tag went over well with the small but enthralled crowd. Another ballad that Joel Sena, the saxophonist of the band, waved his evidently talented magic wand over was the Beatles’ Blackbird. The arrangement came out less Beatles and much more Herbie Hancock on one of his slower R&B moments.
While the re-arrangements made for wonderful listening, it was the accurate-rendition salute made to Etta James with I’d Rather Go Blind that was the standout for me. Not only did the sax solo wow the crowd into a catcalling stupor, the entire band beautifully set the musical mood, providing ample room for Lana’s emotionally raw delivery of this ‘heart-ache’ staple. She performed almost the entire song with her eyes closed, which can sometimes isolate a singer from their audience, but this was not one of those times. It was brutally honest, and for a solid verse and chorus, I stopped taking notes.
Overall, their repertoire offered plenty of light and shade, and across the thoroughly up-tempo funk sexy rhythm and blues, angry soul, and the slower introspective ballads, Lana Rita and The Soul Beats are collectively and individually believable.