As published in Jazzwise, 11 February 2020
Vocalist Ego Ella May performed at Southbank Centre as part of its futuretense series, a partnership with BBC music highlighting up-and-coming talent. In the beautifully-illuminated Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, in front of a bright, geometric backdrop, May and her band played to several hundred people, some of whom had clearly just been passing through the area but were arrested by her beguiling jazz and neo-soul.
Her recorded songs are synthier, with lower-key beats over which May’s questions with silky sardonicism and subtle turns of voice explore how adhering to the status quo can break oppressive cycles. Girls don’t always sing about boys: they’re thinking about climate change, and socioeconomics, and Grenfell, and girls.
For this Friday evening gig her band comprised of keyboardist Raffy Bushman, bassist Luke Wynter, drummer Zoe Pascal and guitarist Ben Riches, all providing a fuller sound over which May could showcase the richness and liquidity of her voice, with a volume commensurate to a large, semi-informal venue. May possesses an unassuming, approachable stage presence that makes her songs – about what’s on the minds of her generation – all the more relatable. It’s not all just current events, though. May’s lyrics possess an emotional depth that render songs like ‘Table for One’ genuine, vulnerable musings rather than superficial empowerment anthems.
The band’s bigger sound was reinforced by heavier bass (especially on ‘Song for Bobby’, in which Pascal hammered out a straightforward seven-note beat on the kick drum) and several intricate solos by Riches and Bushman, the latter of whom accompanied May on the gorgeous ballad ‘For Those Who Left’.
Regardless of whether the audience specifically attended to hear her, or were early arrivals for a Purcell Room show, by the end of the hour-long gig, everyone was a converted fan of May and headed off into Friday night all the lighter thanks to her openness and warm soulful sound.