Riley Stone Lonergan/Dave Drake Band free-bopping in Brighton

For such a bijou venue, the Verdict has attracted it’s share of big hitters on the bill over the past year. But equal among the delights of having a dedicated jazz club on your doorstep are the unexpected, impromptu sessions that appear on the listings when the canny host puts together a mix-and-match of visiting talent. This kind of spontaneous unrehearsed event lies at the heart of the tradition, but requires a level of resourcefulness from all concerned if it’s not to degenerate into an easy canter through a handful of overfamiliar standards.

Tonight’s specially-convened band unites Leeds-based tenorist Riley Stone-Lonergan with local boy Dave Drake. Stone-Lonergan is a Yamaha award winner; Drake is back on vacation from his studies at NYC’s New School. Though both leaders may be unfamiliar to the wider public, the accompanying bass and drum team are firmly established on the scene – Tom Farmer and Shaney Forbes, moonlighting from their position as one-half of Empirical.  


Opener ‘Airegin’ sets the tone. Sonny Rollins’ twisting composition is a fine test for any tenorist and Stone-Lonergan is straight off the blocks, with a suitably fleet and boppish exploration. Drake’s response is highly compositional, chordal and built around subtly shifting motifs and unexpected silences. Forbes is the ideal partner; fans of Empirical’s dramatic modernism might be surprised at his light touch and mastery of the form, a perfect complement to Farmer’s rock-solid swing. Close your eyes and you might have been listening to one of Ahmad Jamal’s seminal trios from the 1950s, but this is no sterile re-creation – each of the players finds a way to push subtly against the boundaries. It’s a lot of fun to listen to.

Next, ’I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ highlights Stone-Lonergan’s melting tone in the high register that evokes Paul Desmond, of all people, and a great solo from Farmer that combined his earthy old-school gut sound with some very swift phrasing and unexpected rhythmic reverses. John Coltrane’s ‘Like Sonny’ lets the tenorist cut loose with some more heated blowing that might have benefitted from more dynamic support from the rhythm team, but ‘Mood Indigo’ and ‘Evidence’ show the real diverse strengths of this band - the former immaculately played without a hint of irony, the latter dramatically launching off into a scintillating mystery tour towards free territory, with Stone-Lonergan unleashing a Coltane-esque ‘cry’ and Drake exhibiting Powell-ish tendencies by way of contrast – both handled with utter conviction.

Riley Drake2

In the second set, the band really starts to fly. ‘Asiatic Raes’ is a burner; then follows a ravishing beautiful original from Stone-Lonergan, preceded by a stark, angular introduction by Drake that owes nothing to the conventional jazz lexicon. The latter’s solo on ‘Whisper Not’ avoids every popular contemporary cliché, sounding like an unearthly, swinging mix of George Shearing and Debussy. Stone-Lonergan shows his technical and emotional range on ‘Emily’ and ‘Lazy Bird’ – his sincerity, and his affection for the material, impress as much as his comprehensive technique.

It’s like being let in on a fascinating, impassioned four-way discussion between four likeable characters. There’s a relaxed good humour onstage that never undermines the seriousness and dedication, and a sense of respect for the tradition that still allows these young guns the freedom to do their own thing. It’s a one-off, spontaneous event, with no album campaign, no accompanying hype, no guarantee that it will ever be repeated – the ephemeral spirit of jazz.

      Eddie Myer

      Photos by Paloma Kay

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