The 2011 Melbourne International Jazz Festival kicked off at the glamorous Palais Theatre with an opening night of jazz standards reinterpreted by a group of not-your-usual jazz vocalists – Tex Perkins, Paris Wells, Eddie Perfect and Kimbra.

The four singers rotated two or three songs over two acts, accompanied by the impressively tight Sam Keevers Trio (Sam Keevers (piano), Brett Hirst (bass) and Simon Barker (drums)). Tex Perkins was his usual louche self and growled his way through an unexpected Burt Bacharach number (not sure when Burt became part of the jazz canon but happy to go along with it). Eddie Perfect upped the beat of Lullaby of Birdland, bopping and weaving through some highly syncopated rhythms.

After the show my friends and I agreed that the female vocalists were much stronger. When I saw and heard Paris Wells the words ‘a sassy broad and a dame’ came to mind – in a sexy slinky dress she bantered with the audience and her warm, gutsy soul voice was reminiscent of an on-the-mark Amy Winehouse. Finally, the performance which was really a revelation and still sticks in my mind was by Kimbra, a New Zealand musician based in Melbourne. She looked slight and delicate in her strapless froth of a ballgown, but captured my imagination with her chameleon vocals, moving from sweet to soaring, smoky to brilliant (amazingly, apparently she’s never been taught to sing). Her version of ‘Catch a Falling Star’, using a taped loop of her vocals to build a childlike, nursery-rhyme rhythm and texture, is still with me. I think the audience agreed with me, as they gave her long enthusiastic applause after each of her numbers.

The 2011 Melbourne International Jazz Festival is happening until 13 June, with something for everyone, from free concerts to kids’ activities.

To read an interview with the program director of the festival, Sophia Brous, click here.