REVIEW: Dana Masters – Lyric Theatre, Belfast

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Every once in a while you have the opportunity to see a musician who projects themselves with such tremendous ease and honesty, it can only be attributed to sheer talent, years of hard work and a deep understanding of the material being performed.

Dana Masters is one of those musicians and not only were we able to relax and enjoy the richness of her undeniably flawless voice, we were also treated to a showcase of some of the finest Jazz instrumentalists in the UK & Ireland.

Masters, originally from South Carolina, has made Northern Ireland her home. A chance meeting with accomplished Northern Irish Trumpeter Linley Hamilton in 2012 led to a weekly residence in McHugh’s Bar, Belfast and after her sublime performance to 11,000 at Proms in the Park we surely can now adopt her as one of our top Jazz Vocalists.

A full Jazz band led by Hamilton completed the Danske Bank stage at the Lyric. Masters began with the rousing feel-good opener ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’. With a passionate delivery of the lyrics, Dana also stood back during a masterful instrumental solo by Linley. This was to set the tone of the evening, with Dana, undeniably able to command the crowd at centre stage, but humbly stepping aside as each band member was allowed several moments to shine during the songs that followed.

dana mastersThe songs came large in their calibre. Numbers previously recorded by Otis Reading, Nat King Cole, David Bowie, originals from Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend and an arrangement of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ by Jamie Cullum. However the debut of Dana’s own song writing stood up heartily among the greats and it was the performance of one of her own songs that really had the crowd singing along.

I have had the pleasure of having voice tutelage under Dana and know first hand how insanely likeable she is. She is no different on stage and states between numbers that if she didn’t have a career in singing, she would like to have a career in talking. She is witty, interesting, and with anecdotes about her 3 small children, relatable. She makes the relatively large venue seem more intimate somehow, and the banter with her fellow musicians is genuine.

Dana conveys an emotional connection with each song and this could not have been displayed more clearly than in her performance of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ before the interval, and in the encore of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile’. I could talk of comparisons with the likes of Etta & Nina, however her own smooth delivery of each word stood up on its own, and packed with strength yet restraint, allowed the message of each piece to hit me right between the eyes. I remembered then, how she had always encouraged me to think of the message in a song, how you could relate to it as a performer and then project this to the audience. Not something easily taught. Not something easily learnt, and in the hands of a lesser artist the delivery of this material may have been flat and predictable. But that is why, in that moment I allowed myself to sit back, and watch ‘the Master’, at work. Jude Malone, GiggingNI.com