Nightingale Quintet Fly High For Porter At Henley’s Phyllis Court Club

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Mark Nightingale, easily our premier jazz trombonist (though Alistair White is snapping at his heels, in my opinion), had assembled an all-star quintet for this occasion, with that stalwart of British jazz Alan Barnes alongside on alto and baritone, the rarely seen Jim Watson (depping for the absent Graham Harvey) on piano, bassist Simon Woolf and drummer Matt Skelton.

In what may be imagined as a gesture to the age profile of the audience, Nightingale had subtitled his concert as ‘Totally Cole Porter’ and presented exactly that. If the audience (or the reader) might have expected a sing-along, or even a vocal or two, then look away now for this was largely a stern examination of the improvisatory potential of Porter’s timeless pieces, long known for their harmonic interest. If I say that it took a while for the group to cohere and swing, that’s no reflection on their individual efforts just the way it was. When it came, it was Jay and Kai’s classic version of ‘It’s Alright With Me’ (suitably adapted by Nightingale) that did the trick, unlocking the rewarding surge that had been missing earlier.    

On this Barnes played baritone, building well, his gutsy fluency a foil for Nightingale’s busy, almost forensic foray in the harmonies. The trombonist is an extemporiser who, having found a note, likes to add a good few more before moving on. Always intricate, sometimes startling, even ribald at times in his playing, and good-natured in his bandstand communication, Nightingale never takes the easy way out.

Other highlights included ‘I Concentrate On You’ in an intriguing stop-start arrangement by Woolf, whose basslines always compelled attention even if his arco solos were something of an acquired taste, and ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ in a solo version by Barnes on baritone, that was unhurried, heart-felt and touching, with Watson’s piano commentary similarly outstanding. In fact, Watson’s playing throughout was intriguing, creative, frequently dazzling, all of which suggests that he should be heard far more often in this kind of out-and-out jazz context. ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’ came out just fine, the ideal closer, all five at one, pleasingly exultant, with swing uppermost.  Good news all round.

– Peter Vacher