The concert’s title conceals its inner purpose – put quite simply, this was a repeat charity event, hosted and conceived by the ever-ebullient Pete Long as a fund-raiser for and thank-you to the local Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, held in Watersmeet, Rickmansworth. Yes, there was a personal link, for Long’s partner, vocalist-trumpeter Georgina Jackson (pictured top) had been treated by the unit, as had band trumpeter Annette Brown, this exemplary cause attracting a sell-out crowd who doubtless, helped to raise further substantial sums along the way.
The band [all of whom donated their services] came in as Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra or so it said on the music stands and played with all the panache, drive and sheer good-hearted energy that Long seems to engender with each of his groups. Mark Fletcher was on drums, bass-guitarist Laurence Cottle alongside, so swing was assured and with the likes of featured trumpeter Mark Armstrong whose explosive solo on a rousing Gordon Goodwin piece concentrated minds, here was an evening that could be best described as an old-style band show but in a present-day setting.
Georgina came on, sang with heartfelt warmth and played magnificent trumpet, her duet with Brown on ‘Stardust’ like a master class in instrumental daring, guest vocalist Claire Martin sang a quartet of numbers, taken she said from the Ella-Duke collaboration and how fine she sounded on things like ‘I’m Beginning to See the Light’, with this great band soaring behind her, as she took risks and extended every phrase, and just to complete the vocal array, on came the slight figure of Sam Merrick, who has clearly bought into the Sinatra template but again, excelled, taking ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and sundry other favourites for an altogether pleasing ride. Along the way, Fletcher had a five-minute solo, Long soloed spikily on clarinet, tenorist Karen Sharp impressed, her sound ever more robust, trombonist Andy Flaxman nearly burst his braces reprising Milt Bernhart’s immortal solo on ‘Skin’ and every player, the trumpets particularly, gave it all their all.
Good to see jazz rise above the merely quotidian and endorse a cause as good as this. Many words were spoken, raffles prizes distributed, but in the end it all came down to the energy and generosity of those who staged, supported and performed on what turned out to be an absorbing and joyful evening.
– Peter Vacher
The double bass made a comparatively late arrival to solo status in jazz; due to its’ unwieldly nature and obstinately low range its use was often restricted to novelty effects and comedy turns a la Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals. Things have come a long way since then, but even a staunchest aficionado might baulk at the prospect of an hour and a half of unaccompanied duets, even from such established masters in their respective fields as Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer. At the very least, one might expect a certain amount of anecdotal raconteurism to leaven the evening’s entertainment, especially as the event was staged in a venue more usually hosting stand-up comedy.
Having none of it, McBride and Meyer confounded expectations by simply walking onstage at the Komedia and starting to play, unamplified. What’s more, Meyer, the known arco (bowing) specialist, played a walking bassline and McBride, the jazz supremo, wielded the bow, stating the bluesy melody of Meyer’s original composition before taking flight on a dazzling improvisation, after which they swapped roles without missing a beat. The contrast between their styles precluded any monotony –each conjured a distinctive tone from their instrument, and the contrast between their solo voices was fascinating.
The set relied chiefly on the Great American Songbook and standard jazz repertoire. ‘My Funny Valentine’ was given a delicate, emotionally resonant rendition; ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ was stately and restrained; an uptempo ‘Solar’ allowed both players to show off their fleet fingers and flexibility; ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ gained new life as a solo feature for the endlessly inventive McBride. His formidable speed and accuracy allowed him to peel off rapid 16th-note runs and double and triple stops, but the tough logic of every phrase meant that this never seemed like empty showboating, and whether playing fluent Parkerisms or basic four-to-the-bar his impeccable timekeeping pocket was evident throughout.
If McBride is a master of the bebop language, Meyer is equally outstanding on the bow; softer in volume but effortlessly fluid in articulation and with intonation a cellist might envy. His solo feature deployed harmonics to range over at least four octaves, and his playing on a Bill Monroe bluegrass was a joyously melodic dance. His idiosyncratically inventive approach to improvising over standard changes was a perfect foil for McBride’s thorough examination of the tradition.
What might still have been a rather dry display of technical virtuosity was turned around from the outset by two factors; the inherent musicality of everything that they played, and the obvious delight that each took in the other’s company. They supported each other’s every move, chucking phrases back and forth, and even laughed out loud as they urged each other to greater heights. McBride was a genially serious, impressively dapper presence; Meyer looked the All-American Boy in chinos and button down collar, running his hand over his crew-cut in a self-deprecating move eerily reminiscent of Stan Laurel. This reviewer counted at least fourteen bassists among the audience - but this event would have appealed to any lover of good music. Let’s hope there’s a return visit.
– Eddie Myer
– Photo by Tim Dickeson
Buck Clayton’s legacy was a box. Packed, it turns out, with music, and bequeathed to bandleader Alyn Shipton in appreciation for his help in publishing the great man’s autobiography. So what better idea than to bring this minor tsunami of largely unpublished or new material to life? To think out of the box, you might say. This in a nutshell explains the band’s title and, more to the point, its performing raison d’etre.
Trumpeter Clayton made his post-Basie mark with his legendary recorded jam sessions and with his all-star touring groups, and Shipton has followed his template in putting together a mini big band with a pair of trumpets, two saxophones, alto and tenor, and a trombone to anchor the frontline, with a rhythm trio. Clayton wrote with swing in mind, each chart carefully tailored, themes neatly resolved or backed with supportive riffs, the focus on ensemble cohesion and pleasing outcomes. There’s no grunt and grind here, more a case of a light touch and a flair for a decent tune. All of which demands the kind of players who can slip into mainstream mode, find solo ideas that reflect the tune’s shape and direction and, happily for this private club audience, that’s just what Shipton and company delivered.
‘All The Cats Join In’, from a Clayton jam session recording, sets the scene: swing personified, good lines, and the kind of pleasing drive that allowed soloists like Alan Barnes, pianist Martin Litton and Dutch cornetist Menno Daams to find their feet. ‘Claytonia’ had the kind of ingratiatingly louche groove that always appeals, with Robert Fowler’s beefy tenor at its core, Litton in bluesy mode. ‘Party Time’ was perky, again with Fowler and Litton foregrounded. ‘Outer Drive’ was always a Clayton band favourite, here given the kind of righteous seeing-to that Buck would have approved of, the concert’s first half suitably highlighted by the BCLB’s version of ‘The Kid from Red Bank’ derived from Neal Hefti’s Atomic Basie arrangement with Litton taking the honours, his solo a cheery fusion of stride and down-home swing, all cleverly done and hugely rewarding. Then came ’The Jeep Is Jumping’ from the Hodges songbook, a cross-over into Ellington country to which they returned several times in the second half, this vital standby given a jubilant reading with trombonist Adrian Fry robust and to the point.
As is so often the way, the playing felt fresher and the band’s energy levels soared in the second half, with drummer Bobby Worth and bassist Shipton anchoring a version of ‘Blue Lou’ that had all the right attributes, Barnes expressive and Daams impressing with his spacious, Hackett-like phrasing. More Clayton pieces followed, ‘The Bowery Bunch’, cleverly voiced, the riffs again propelling Fry and Daams to good things, ‘Three and Six’ gave Barnes a chance to show his soulful side before another Hodges piece, the quaintly titled ‘Sweet as Bear Meat’, with Fry’s wah-wah trombone, riffs piling in, trumpeter Ian Smith leading the way. And if that wasn’t enough, they finished with Buck’s tribute to his old sparring partner Humphrey Lyttelton, a bandleader who certainly espoused the Clayton cause, with ’Sir Humphrey’, Worth in swing paradise, the band hitting their marks with maximum drive and creative zest.
Once upon a time, this kind of Basie-styled small group jazz was all the rage and then… well, it wasn’t. Happily, and in the right hands, as here, it lives again – as does the music of Clayton himself.
– Peter Vacher
The relationship between celebrity and credibility is not always straightforward in jazz. Chick Corea is one of a handful of artists who can make an unassailable claim to both, and Tim Garland’s long association with the maestro has made him into one of a handful of UK artists to enjoy a comparable level of international recognition. He’s chosen this Brighton gig to showcase a new project and premiere some material from his brand new album One – striking out from his recent adventures in symphonic composition or the all-acoustic subtlety of the Lighthouse Trio towards a return to the muscular jazz-rock fusion that informed his youth.
He’s assembled an intriguingly matched band – Asaf Sirkis on drums is a long-time collaborator, Ant Law is an emerging talent on guitar, and nattily be-hatted keyboardist Jason Rebello is a fellow international star thanks to his long tenure with Sting. They are immediately put through their paces in opener ‘Yes To This’ – featuring Corea’s signature mix of furiously complex unison arrangements and infectiously uplifting latin rhythms, it’s at once challenging and accessible. Rebello’s electric piano solo, extraordinarily fluid over the unpredictable changes, shows just what we’ve been missing during his recent absence from the UK scene. Elsewhere, ‘Sama’i For Peace’ combines a middle eastern rhythmic pattern, with Law’s ostinato on 8-string guitar filling out the bass, as a starting point for incendiary solos from Rebello, Garland and Sirkis that capture all the power, flash and confidence of the classic fusion era. The band don’t miss a beat on the complex structure, played live for the first time ever tonight. ‘Songs to the North Sky’ is rooted in Garland’s love of the North country landscape, and the structure of his solo lines recall Garbarek’s Nordic lyricism, with Sirkis adding wonderful colours from his expanded kit. It’s a highly sophisticated, idiosyncratic but very accessible sound, though Rebello’s beautiful solo interlude is rather compromised by a harsh digital piano. ‘Foretold’, dedicated to John McLaughlin, gives everyone a chance to bust out their effects boards in a true fusion odyssey, with Sirkis tearing up the polyrhythms.
Garland is a confident host with a touch of the elder-statesman rock star about him, an impression reinforced by the weighty appellations given to the compositions: ‘The Eternal Greeting’ uses 12-string guitar and clay drum to create the kind of exotic textures pioneered by Oregon, and ‘The Colours of Light’ features Rebello in full Jan Hammer mode with some tasty Moog-synth work. A high energy rendition of Corea’s classic ‘Windows’ gives Garland a chance to show off his flawless post-Brecker chops, with dazzlingly creative support from Sirkis, and set closer ‘Prototype’ features Ant Law finally unleashing his mathematical guitar genius in a stunningly original solo across all eight strings. There’s a palpable sense of mutual appreciation and fun onstage underscoring the awesome levels of technical accomplishment, and an appealing mix of swagger, sincerity and the slight preposterousness that characterised the giants of 1970s fusion, to whom this is an affectionate tribute.
– Eddie Myer
– Photos by David Forman
Pianist Hans Koller chooses his fellow musicians with care. Percy Pursglove on bass, Jeff Williams on drums, and John O’Gallagher on alto saxophone all are special to Koller and it shows in the warmth and unity of the band’s vibe on stage.
The quartet played a short first half before the main event of this Frontiers Festival concert: a Jazzlines commission called ‘Twelve Re-inventions for George Russell’. They were joined by a sextet of musicians from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. Koller’s study of Russell’s Lydian Concept way of writing had met its match in O’Gallagher’s study of the 12 Tone music of Webern, and both men sounded invigorated by their common interest in applying some stern methodology to composition and improvisation while maintaining a jazz grooviness and sense of fun.
The 12-part suite sometimes set jazz quartet and contemporary sextet in back and forth conversation; twice Pursglove came forward to conduct the strings and woodwind players on their own; sometimes BCMG were the backdrop; at others they intertwined with the jazz players.
Koller turned in a tasty solo or two but mainly left it to O’Gallagher who had calmed his tone from the first half, to Pursglove who was on exceptionally fine form, and even to BCMG oboist Melinda Maxwell who was able to show her admirable jazz chops.
– Peter Bacon
– Photos by John Watson