Alex Garnett’s Bunch Of Five punch hard at the 606 Club

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Alex Garnett’s Bunch Of Five have an album to plug, a tour underway and a collective sense that they’re on to something very worthwhile. And so it proved at the 606, three dates into the launch of Andromeda, newly out on Mike Janisch’s Whirlwind label, this fast becoming the source of choice for the brightest and best in current jazz-making.

There’s something about the 606 that seems to concentrate minds, for there are no hooray sideshows, and it’s not the setting for the glitterati to strut their stuff. The food is good, the look plain Jane but above all it’s a place centred on the music and this band knew that. With Tim Armacost, his American co-star alongside Garnett, it was a two-tenor affair throughout, the rhythm section of pianist Liam Noble, bassist Janisch [of course] and drummer James Maddren busting a gut to propel these front-liners [and themselves] to jazz heaven.

Club gigs mean players can stretch out, enabling Noble in particular to captivate the onlooker with his very distinctive keyboard ruminations, while Janisch seemed about to fall into mortal combat with his bass at times and Maddren thought up an infinite variety of percussive interjections. Better than the album? Well, yes, but that’s the way of live gigs, isn’t it?

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Inevitably with a Garnett appearance, there was humour in abundance, Armacost confessing that however many times he heard the gags they were always different. That said there was no tenor coasting from AG, or TA, for that matter. Chunky lines like ‘So Long’, the two heard as one kicked hard, the American taking the motorway route, running fast but going straight, while Garnett looked to go off-road, taking in rhythmic bumps and diversions, his tone darker, as the spirit built.

Each title had its story, Garnett explaining that his compositions reflected the 20-year span of his association with Armacost, this taking in ‘Charlie’s World’ for his son and ‘Delusions of Grandma’, for a malapropian friend [you had to be there!] the latter the ultimate in ferocious, two-tenor shout-ups, yet almost eclipsed by ‘This Will Be’, a Chris Potter piece, which revealed yet again Maddren’s inventiveness and Noble’s enigmatic, sometimes Monk-ian touch.

This was stirring, virtuosic music by masters of the art, up on their toes and going for it. A case of the right music in the right place and I’m glad I was there.

– Peter Vacher
– Photos by Roger Thomas

The band continues its tour this month and next at the following venues: St James Social Club, Swansea Jazzland, St James Crescent, Uplands, Swansea (21 Jan); The Coronation Tap, 8 Sion Place, Clifton, Bristol (22 Jan); Wakefield Jazz Club, Eastmoor Rd, Wakefield (23 Jan); The Cube Deda, Chapel St, Derby (6 Feb); and The Progress Theatre, The Mount, Christchurch Road, Reading (2 April).

Click here to pre-order the album from the Whirlwind Recordings website

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