It is not every night that one gets to hear a set of gospel tunes and a set of semi-improvised jazz on a makeshift stage on the ground floor of a studio apartment in East Vancouver. By the same person. On a ukulele and a looper machine. Yet this is exactly what Coco Love Alcorn brought to her session at Backspace on Thursday, April 30.
While she is in the midst of recording her next album – The Spirit Sessions, due out sometime in 2016 – Coco is traveling throughout BC and Nova Scotia playing small venues in many tiny towns across the west coast and the maritimes. For her, this was a great way to get back on the road after not touring for 3+ years as well as to let fans hear some teasers off her future album.
It is quite incredible what one woman with a ukulele can do. Given that there are a lot of Gospel elements infused in the spirit sessions, on many occasions throughout the night the audience became the choir, repeating joyous refrain after joyous refrain while Coco held the high notes to infinity (and beyond). At times she sounded like Joss Stone, at others she embodied the soul of Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, among others. An extraordinary sound.
It also validated a few things for me personally. Being a non-believer/subscriber to any religion, I was always curious as to why I was drawn to Gospel music and spirituals. Coco reaffirmed that it was because of the amazing harmonies and tonal qualities, rather than any specific message in the lyrics. Because while Coco’s set was tinged with Gospel and was heavily inspired by old-time spirituals, the lyrics – I found – were much more open, not at all preachy, quite contemporary and often introspective.
Even better was when Coco sang A cappella and used the looper underneath to echo stomps, mic hits and harmonies. It was a vocal percussion done without vocals (or percussion). If there is such a thing.
That would have enough for me already but that was just the first set. After the break, we shifted gears and were treated to a wonderful array of scat and jazz tunes. This makes sense, as Coco’s father was a renowned jazz musician in his own right. She even brought up some special guests to sing, play piano and generally have fun.
It was an infectious, pleasing night and for the first time in a while, made me very happy with what I do – even if it’s un-officially and non-paying. Atmosphere definitely counts for something.
Oh yeah, and her encore was largely a rap. A Gospel-jazz-rap album entirely composed of songs about bicycles; now what an epic crossover that would be.