Gareth Lockrane is in town tonight with a bag full of new tunes and a cohort of old friends to play them with. To set the scene, he opens with 'Put The Cat Out' from the original Grooveyard album - a skittish, blues-y waltz that Lalo Schifrin might definitely have enjoyed, embodying the type of hard-driving accessible soul-jazz that inspired the project. Lockrane is such a powerful player that he has no trouble occupying the space that might usually have been filled by trumpet or alto sax, as he demonstrates during his first solo – fluent, warm-toned, urgent and architecturally well-structured. Next comes the first of the new material, as yet untitled; a piece of Steps Ahead-style acoustic fusion, with Lockrane pulling out an inexhaustible supply of in-the-pocket phrases and Tristan Maillot on drums keeping a fierce but flexible groove – despite the frowns of concentration over the printed page the piece takes off.
Maillot was part of the original, organ-led line-up; perhaps reflecting shifting tastes there's also an Acoustic Grooveyard, and Lockrane has brought a mix-and-match rhythm team including Dave Whitford on bass from the latter line-up, and Rob Barron standing in heroically on keys – together they're as supple and solid as you could wish for. The constant factor since the band's inception has been the presence of Alex Garnett on tenor, and the next new offering, labelled 'Slow Burner' for obvious reasons, pairs him with the low seductive tones of Lockrane's bass flute to hypnotic effect, as he mixes slippery post-bop elisions with some righteous preaching. They are a perfectly-matched foil for each other – Lockrane's clean cut persona, exuding wholesome energy like an inspirational youth club leader, contrasting with Garnett's dapper style and mordant wit, bearing with it the unmistakeable scent of the Soho night-club. They're both such powerful practitioners on their instruments – Garnett's darker chromatic shadings contrast with Lockrane's no less complex but somehow sunnier feel for melody. They simply fly over the high-energy 'Dark Swinger' (the titles still need working on) – Lockrane seems invincible, pouring out a torrent of perfectly-executed ideas over a rock-solid but free swing.
The second set brings further hot-off-the-press delights; 'New Tasty Swinger' features alto flute in some airy mid-tempo bop that gives Baron a chance to shine. "New Ballad Waltz" is a real highlight, with a melody hinting at Mingus' immortal 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' and lovely low-end statements from Whitford and Lockrane on bass flute. 'Frizz' sounds like an updated Horace Silver, though the piercing tones of the piccolo are perhaps an acquired taste, and 'Method In The Madness" is a great feature for Garnett's virtuosity and Lockrane's tight, logical writing. It's a real pleasure to see such outstanding players in a relaxed, informal setting, working through the challenges of new material and coming up trumps every time; a mix of discipline and spontaneity that's surely the essence of jazz.
– Eddie Myer
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley