It was a cool Saturday evening in Pretoria, and the closing night of the National Arts Festival from which a large number of jazz lovers have yet to return, so small audiences are to be expected at live music venues across South Africa. Laughing Chefs is a quaint restaurant, surrounded by little buildings and rooms that make up an art gallery, the restaurant itself is home to some of the art being exhibited too. We arrived after dark and so we missed the garden that we’ve been told is beautiful. Much of the art on display is not to my taste, but it adds an enormous amount of character to the venue. The stage is set in a windowed corner under a clear roof that during the day would allow the sunlight to pour in and make even the inside of the restaurant feel like a part of the garden.
After greeting Barbora Tellinger and being introduced to John Fresk, we took our seats and perused the menu that features a wide variety of wines, the last page of the menu containing the small selection of meals available. It may be a small list, but choosing from this list of meals that sound equally mouth-watering was no easy task. We finally placed our food order after much deliberation at the start of Barbora & John’s first set.
The intimate setting and small crowd lent itself to a relaxed evening and Barbora and John were able to converse and play their music to the crowd that felt almost as if they were playing to each member of the audience individually. The set contained a number of jazz standards, as well as original compositions from both of Barbora’s earlier live albums and the duo’s brand new studio album “Deuce”.
The first set comprised some slower numbers and as the evening progressed both the musicians and the songs warmed up, and by the end of the second set was quite lively. John’s style of piano playing is well suited to the arrangements of many of the standards performed on during the evening and fits hand in glove with Barbora’s own song writing. A highlight of the evening, was Barbora’s invitation to two of her students from University of Pretoria onto the stage to sing backing vocals for her. This was a particular highlight for me, because I was expecting to be disappointed. I was expecting the backing vocals to be the regular ‘shoo-wop’ and RnB style backing vocals that accompanies too much of South Africa’s “Afrojazz” and “Afropop” sounds. Oh boy, was I wrong! Both incredible singers in their own right, with amazingly tight harmonies and a fantastic arrangement for their backing, what I expected to find dreary became a highlight. These two students of music, Neo Motaung and Natalie Molea were given an opportunity towards the end of the first set to take the spotlight and perform a beautiful rendition of Letta Mbulu’s ‘Music In The Air’.
Barbora Tellinger’s earlier albums, although live recordings, do not do justice to her live performance. The pairing of John Fresk and Barbora Tellinger works marvellously. Laughing Chefs menu has limited offerings but every choice a masterpiece, my choice of the fillet steak was one of the best steaks I have had in a while. Next time you see Tellinger & Fresk booked at Laughing Chefs, make a plan, I highly recommend this as a way to spend an evening.