Roscoe James Irwin @ Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide 16/6/2019

At age thirty seven Melbourne’s Roscoe James Irwin is already a veteran of the Australian music scene having performed professionally for over twenty years. The singer/ songwriter/ trumpeter/ arranger/ composer, together with a jazz trio and string orchestra, charmed Adelaide Cabaret Festival audiences in two exceptional performances of his Chet Baker homage, Lost in a Dream. For seventy minutes on Sunday 16 June 2019, the Dunstan Playhouse was transformed into 1950’s California when Baker, the James Dean of Jazz and West Coast Cool, was at his peak.

A casually dressed Irwin, trumpet in hand, launched straight into a reworking of This is Always and seamlessly transitioned into Someone to Watch Over Me without comment. The faultless and flowing evolution of music was suggestive of his arranging capabilities and an indication of what was to be expected in the tribute to an iconic yet tragic figure of jazz history.

In between arrangements, Irwin offered a brief yet succinct history of Baker. Whilst he indicated it was not his intention to celebrate the life of the musician, but to celebrate the music, the story of his life and long-term struggle with addiction was paramount to understanding and appreciating the music and sentiment associated with them.

With the backing of local Adelaide musicians including a nine piece string orchestra lead by Julian Ferraretto, Ben Riley on drums, Tim Bowen on bass and David Goodwin on piano Irwin lead the audience on an exquisite journey with songs including Time After Time, It’s Always You, My Heart Stood Still, I Fall in Love Too Easily and I’ve Never Been in Love Before. The dreamy ambience generated from the plethora of instruments and velvety vocals was broken only by special guest vocalist Jazmine Vanua who joined Irwin for a rendition of You’re Driving Me Crazy and How Long Has This Been Going On.

Vanua’s opulent and sultry vocals were mature beyond her fifteen years and created an ideal contrast to Irwin’s delicately mellow interpretation. After Vanua’s spectacular interlude, Irwin brought the ambience back to a wistful sensibility with a hauntingly sublime rendition of My Funny Valentine. He concluded the evening with Let’s Get Lost followed by She Was Too Good to Me.

Lost in a Dream: The Musical Life of Chet Baker was a graceful and breathtaking foray into Baker’s West Coast Jazz. It was the realisation of a long term vision of Irwin’s that stemmed from a near life-long fascination with and admiration of a musician whose life was riddled with tragedy. Despite Baker’s overall melancholic story, Irwin efficaciously emphasised his talents to indeed produce a dynamic celebration of his music.

Cabaret Festival Review By Anita Kertes