Gareth Lockrane Big Band At The Gunnersbury Tavern, London - 13 July 2014

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Football was not the only ‘beautiful game’ being performed at its highest level on World Cup Sunday as The Gunnersbury Tavern’s weekly jazz afternoon hosted “flute phenomenon” Gareth Lockrane and his 19-piece big band. Since winning Best European Jazz Group in 2003 at the Granada Jazz Festival with his Grooveyard band, Lockrane’s career has rocketed to, and remained at, the forefront of British jazz. Sunday’s performance showcased much of his widely acclaimed and latest Whirlwind Recordings release, The Strut, as well other high-energy originals inspired by, according to the flautist, “pumped up groove tunes of the 1960s.”

The Gunnersbury’s high ceiling acoustic and traditional Sunday menu provided an ideal setting for Lockrane’s biggest self-titled outfit. Striking an assured, albeit tightrope, balance between common expectations for ‘Sunday afternoon jazz’ and Lockrane’s current big, bold and driving sound, the set kicked off with a hard-swinging Mel Lewis dedication, ‘Mel’s Bell’. Much rhythmic variety between straight-ahead swing time and African bell patterns, as well as syncopated ensemble backings behind the soloists, created a distinct momentum for the set to take off upon.

A similarly pulsating force continued through Lockrane’s samba-inflected original ‘Lock Up’, which saw his forearm twitching at an almost comical rate to keep up with his seemingly limitless musical ideas during his first real stretch-out of the set. Sadly Graeme Blevins’ tenor solo was at times lost in volume under the ensemble backings, though his technical command and refreshingly space-conscious approach shone through in later solos. Recent Royal Academy of Music graduate, trumpeter Tom Walsh, enjoyed sole accompaniment from Ryan Trebilcock on bass for his solo, reining back the dynamic of the piece and allowing listeners to fully appreciate Walsh’s full-bodied tone.

Other highlights included a graceful re-balancing to the band’s taut intensity as Simon Marsh opened up into a tenor solo on Lockrane’s ballad ‘Forever Now’, while percussionist Miles Bould provided a variety of tonal colours, sympathetically accompanying the direction of his solo. The aptly named ‘Groove Rider’ included a growling trombone solo from Adrian Fry and guitar solo from Alex Munk that truly stood out as a particularly special moment of the afternoon. Ramping up the energy to finish off the set, title track ‘The Strut’ provided big-tuneful melodies with compelling, strutting rhythms, and had Lockrane with his piccolo riding out on a final tidal wave of energy.

– Tom Wright

For more info go to www.garethlockrane.com and www.thegunnersbury.com