Paul Ryan strides through the standards at Ronnie Scott’s

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

There are those singers who like to experiment with sound or put a highly “personal” slant on material and those whose delivery is less idiosyncratic, respecting the songwriter’s craft with its emphasis on telling a story, but at the same time not losing individuality.

Paul Ryan stands firmly in the latter category.

His set at Ronnie Scott’s showed how well he interprets standards, delivers them with panache and with a knowledge and understanding of the nuances and wit of the great lyricists. His performance included ‘If I Were a Bell’ and ‘Luck Be a Lady’ from Frank Loesser’s Guys & Dolls and some familiar compositions of Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, etc., but within these were lesser known numbers, his rich baritone lending itself well to the slow tempos of Matt Dennis’ ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘Violets For Your Furs’, and Johnny Mercer’s ‘PS I Love You’; each a narrative – personal and poignant, opening up a thousand memories.

Songs and tunes cleverly segued from one into another. ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ into ‘Singing in the Rain’ and back again, with a slight soul jazz tinge; ‘Moonlight Sonata’ introduced Night & Day; Rachmaninoff’s ‘Prelude in C Sharp Minor’ preceded ‘In the Still of the Night’, with its accentuated alliteration and rhythmic phrasing (and musically reminding this writer of Mingus’ ‘All The Things You C Sharp’ from the Café Bohemia); a section in fluent French ushered in ‘Autumn Leaves’.

All were ably supported by pianist Kenny Clayton and his trio (John Rees Jones bass, Mike Osborne drums), with whom Ryan has a well-established rapport, feeding off each other and infusing a wry humour into the proceedings. Clayton himself showed particularly adept and sensitive touches in his version of Jerome Kern’s ‘Long Ago and Far Away’.

In all, a satisfying way to spend a couple of hours and it was a tribute to their infectious admiration for the genre that, en route to the French House, I made a mental note to dust off my unforgivably neglected Johnny Hartman records as soon as I got home.

– Matthew Wright

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