What is Style? Style is a spectre, a ghostly sheen that is impossible to describe and pretty much impossible to buy, steal or fake. In short, you either got it or you don’t.

Today’s styles tumble over each other with such rapidity that the more style conscious among us are almost perpetually dizzy with Style’s glittering spin. The truly stylish – whether in fashion, music, food, even politics – seem to have an enviable ability to cherry-pick what they want from this or that and make it their own.

Sydney singer-songwriter Vanessa Raspa has all the Style she needs and more. Her look and vibe are an impeccable and captivating combination of much of the best of the 20th century – 40’s chic, 50’s sass, even a splash of 70s and 80s pop smarts -– while being entirely of today. The same goes for her music.

La Raspa’s recent launch of her single Movin’ took place at Newtown’s Vanguard. She could not have selected a better venue – part Paris bordello, part über-urban jazz bar, The Vanguard’s décor was a perfect fit for an entirely stylish night of music.

Opener, Tether (singer Cat Robinson) chilled the room with her intimate tunes including a hushed and lush version of The Church’s ‘Under The Milky Way’. The Conscious Pilots’ brand of extroverted rap-funk-with-horns woke us out of our revery and prepared us for La Raspa and her band.

Strutting out with Motown belter ‘Like Candi Says’, Raspa’s band – the wonderfully named Zombie Cats – pricked our ears up. These are some of Sydney’s sharpest young jazz players but they don’t mind putting their foot down as the music commands. Cameron Henderson’s SRV-style solo spat some sparks during the opener. Yet for ‘Real Deal’ the Cats laid back, evoking the smoothest of smooth jazz – with a wonderful Chick Corea-like solo from Emma Stephenson adding a pearlescent lustre.

Raspa’s songs demand this level of switched-on musicianship – her fashion sense is smart and eclectic, and so is her music: there are flavours of soul (not Nu-, but the Detroit stuff, the real stuff), pure pop, finger-popping jazz and more than a nod to cabaret. The torchy ‘Broken’ or the hip-swinging ‘Superman’ put out velvet textures that hung perfectly among The Vanguard’s rich, deep drapes. ‘Sometimes Silence’ had the band flamenco-clapping to a Spanish 6/8 with drummer Oli Nelson kicking up some Andalusian dust under it all. Elsen Price, on electric upright, began the tune ‘Carousel’ with complete authority over the groove. 

But it was Vanessa Raspa’s night – she was chanteuse, diva, blues lady, jazz baby. Like all the most truly musical singers, she worked with the band – over it, within it, around it – a synergy all too rare in this age of counterfeit Stardom, but always a startling thing to experience. By the time Raspa and her Zombie Cats hit us with the single Movin’ – its launch was the reason we were here – the Vanguard was hers. A sharp slice of Motown soul-funk – with horn man Jack Shanley working and sweating like a whole section – Movin’ raised everyone’s temperature on this chill late Autumn night.

We wouldn’t let her go, but her impromptu encore of The Beatles’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ (by way of SRV’s ‘Pride and Joy’) left us all smiling. As does La Raspa’s music and pin-sharp style – which she gets just so right.

Photos by Lily So. Check the full gallery here.

Published May 2012 on theorangepress.net

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