Movers and Shakers: the art of the British jazz group – Purcell Room, Southbank, London

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“We had more than 40 composers to pick from” says Mark Lockheart, introducing tonight’s specially convened all-star group, “and we had to choose 11 or so to reflect our different character... whatever it is.... maybe classical, from singing all those hymns.” So we set off on an exploration of British Jazz, how it’s evolved and what has remained constant.

Proceedings started with one of the many exceptions that prove the rule – an arrangement by pianist Liam Noble of John McLaughlin’s ‘Extrapolation’ – even as the man himself was performing in the QEH next door. It still sounds amazingly fresh, giving a clear insight into how McLaughlin’s maverick vision transformed him into one of British jazz’s uncontested international stars. Jason Yarde rose to the occasion with a powerful solo full of suitably Dolphyesque inflections, and the piece subsided gracefully into an unexpectedly mournful coda from Noble and Lockheart.

This set the tone for the following section, as Norma Winstone sang Michael Garrick’s elegantly minor-key ‘Galilee’ and ‘Dusk Fire’, the latter giving trumpeter Laura Jurd a chance to shine. Johnny Dankworth was picked for his “totally British melodies”, and Chris Batchelor’s ‘Road, Sky and Moon’ continued the mood – understated, atmospheric, beautifully arranged for the three horns. Bobby Wellins guested on a rare Ray Noble standard that wasn’t ‘Cherokee’, – Tim Giles and Jasper Høiby’s angular swagger updated this reading of mainstream tradition, and the follow-up of Joe Harriot’s ‘Parallel’ enabled the band to unleash their contemporary chops.

If Allan Holdsworth and Huw Warren’s compositions were less distinctive, Bobby’s revisiting of 1960s classic ‘Starless and Bible Black’ was a second-set highlight. So what, finally, is British Jazz? Well, the character of each of these superbly progressive players never failed to shine through the diverse mix of beautifully arranged material - perhaps that’s the answer.

– Eddy Myer