Live Review: Sarah McKenzie @ Vibrato Jazz Grill, L.A., CA

Material: Multi-talented and charismatic, Sarah McKenzie hails from Australia, yet her expansive sensibilities, residencies in Paris and London and international tour resume reveals her as a true musical citizen of the world. Her winsome, deeply sensual yet often powerfully swinging set included two originals that perfectly embody her global jazz aesthetic—the poetic, sultry and hipster “Paris in the Rain” and bustling “De Nada,” the latter representing her lifelong passion for Brazilian music which she also brilliantly expressed via vibrant, sensual spins on Antonio Carlos Jobim classics “Corcovado,” “Chega de Saudade” (sung partially in Portuguese) and “Once I Loved.” 

Musicianship: In addition to being a deeply sultry and emotional vocalist, McKenzie is also a brilliant, intuitive and inventive pianist, both when accompanying her vocals and engaging in ear-popping solo improvisations on par with the ivory magic of great vocalist/pianists like Diana Krall and Harry Connick, Jr. Making her first appearance ever in Los Angeles, she surrounded herself with top-notch local veteran jazz talent. Most of the arrangements left room for their sparkling individual work, but the most fun was “I Fell In Love With You,” a bustling swing jam that featured fiery romps by McKenzie, Scesney, Storie and Hamar. 

Performance: McKenzie’s goal was clearly to allow us to experience various aspects of her artistry and share her many passions. By so artfully sharing both the Jobim songs and her ownie’s Brazilian flavored gem “De Nada,” and then freewheeling through “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” she truly conveyed a sense that bossa nova and '60s jazz is the foundation of everything she is and does. She’s an exciting performer who also took a moment to showcase her intimate, vulnerable side on an exquisite vocal-guitar duet on “Once I Loved.”

Summary: McKenzie’s explosive, one-two punch as a vocalist and pianist ensured that her L.A. debut was a lively, high spirited and swinging affair in every sense, allowing the local audience to understand why she’s been such a popular performer everywhere else for so long. One caveat: it felt like she gave her own transcendent songwriting short shrift, playing only a handful of (admittedly spot-on!) originals amidst the classics.

Contact: Burkhard Hopper [email protected]

Web: sarahmckenzie.info

Players: Sarah McKenzie, vocals, piano; John Hamar, bass; John Storie, guitar; Jacob Scesney, saxophone; Donald Edwards, drums