Sam Knight Quintet and Elephant Talk sound off at Spice of Life

Sam Knight humorously identifies himself as the "designated email sender" for these two bands – presumably a vital role for any group trying to build a reputation and following. Knight's lively young quintet plays original compositions, drawing strongly from the jazz giants that have most influenced him during his time at the Guildhall School of Music – Seamus Blakey, Wycliffe Gordon, Miles Davis. The confidence of youth is on full display, both in the solos taken by each member of the group and in the patter between songs, as one of the compositions reputedly aims to take Miles Davis's 'Nardis' "to the next level". The group have a nice range of feeling, from the lamenting 'Goodbye Tomorrow' to the clattering pace of the conceptually unusual 'Musk of the Underground'. It's straight-ahead jazz, performed with flair and passion.

The arrival of Elephant Talk marks a change in tack. The tried-and-tested jazz structures of the Sam Knight Quintet give way to a more multi-faceted sound that mixes jazz harmonies with more of a rock feel. Elephant Talk excel at shifting gears and moving from tension to release. They build with staccato stabs from the three-piece brass section, release as they round the musical corner, suddenly firing on all cylinders with a volume and intensity that draws cheers from the crowd.

Again, we're mainly listening to original compositions, this time drawn from guitarist James Maltby's wellspring of musical influences and invention. Fresh from playing with Knight's Quintet, Maltby shows his breadth, as capable of a delicate chord solo as he is a spiky riff, bristling with dissonance.

All these musicians played together during their studies at Guildhall. A few – Knight, Maltby and drummer Floyd St Barbe – feature in both bands, in some cases because they always do, in another because of a last-minute personnel shortage which also necessitated the introduction of an unrehearsed yet still excellent pianist.

With music of this quality to show off, someone's got to send those emails.

Story and photo – James Rybacki @james_rybacki

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