Guitarist Nigel Price's epic national tour – 56 dates in all – came to its final stop at Lauderdale House in Highgate, London, last Thursday. Long established as an amenable venue for jazz, the house has recently undergone a major lottery-funded face-lift and Price's climactic gig coincided with the opening of its new bar and café, thus giving everyone, musicians and audience alike, ample further cause for celebration.
Price, whose travels have taken him and his loyal sidemen some 7,000 road miles around the UK, confessed to being exhausted: if so, it scarcely showed for this was a bravura performance by him and all concerned. Honed on the road, tight and crisp, the dynamics as natural as breathing, theirs was music that touched all the emotions: excitement, bliss, awe, even exultation, as they collectively pulled off yet more intricacies or found new ways to build and flourish. They being Price's accomplished supporters, his equal partners really, organist Ross Stanley, all deep-seated chords and spiky right-hand passages, and drummer Matt Home, agile and purposeful, his drum sound quite perfect – in other words, a fusion of talents that could have hardly been bettered. Add in the twin tenors of Vasilis Xenopoulos and Alex Garnett, head-to-head and swinging and you had a definition of zest and joy in jazz.
Opening with 'This Could Be The Start of Something Big' seemed strangely contrary – surely this was the end of something big? No matter and quite erroneous, as Home's brushes laid down a pitter-patter beat and Price began his Wes-like extended exploration of the theme and its underlying harmonic structure. He likes to approach a song as if seeking to shake all the fruit from the tree, here aided and abetted by the tenors of course (they had only played together once previously on the tour) each having augmented the group separately but, my, how well they combined. Vasilis is a linear player, who knows how to shape a solo in what we might call Stanley Turrentine's fashion, with a fine, strong tone and an elegant, centred command, whereas Garnett is a mischief-maker, his playing often oblique, the entry points mostly unexpected, the phrasing sometimes sly, the support from Stanley, Price and Home, giving them both the kind of prompting that must have seemed like wish-fulfilment personified.
Inspired by the organ combos of the Blue Note-era, and thus marked by some as retro, this to me was music of the moment, gloriously creative, ebullient and at times downright funky. How can you beat Wes Montgomery's 'Four and Six', but here played in 12? Price introduced many of the songs as contrafacts of popular themes, mostly taken from his current album, none better than the sign-off piece 'Blue Genes'. Quick-fire yet engaging, the tenors roaring through the chart, this avowedly was a tour-de-force for them all. Quite a night.
– Peter Vacher