Jean Toussaint All-Star 6Tet Shine Bright At Ronnie Scott's

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'All-star' is a term mostly out of fashion these days. But Jean Toussaint's 6Tet make a convincing case for its reinstatement. This storming gig from the Virgin Islands saxophonist who relocated to London via New York in the 1980s after a stint with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers features a frontline of volcanic energy – trumpeter Byron Wallen and trombonist Dennis Rollins – as well as an eruptive rhythm-section – pianist Jason Rebello, double-bassist Alec Dankworth and drummer Shane Forbes – that calls to mind the heyday of small groups with big sounds, epitomised by Toussaint's former boss. The spirit of Blakey is strong throughout the two sets as several of his trademarks, from heraldic, stirring themes to bluesy unison passages and potent soloing across the whole band, are present and correct.

Furthermore, as he emphatically demonstrates on the group's studio debut, Brother Raymond, Toussaint has injected a bold, robust Afro-Caribbean pulse into much of the music that is further enhanced by the horn players all hitting cowbells, shakers and agogo, just as Blakey's men did on the breakdown of 'A Night In Tunisia' in their hard-bop heyday. Pieces such as 'Amabo' – a tribute to Obama – have a driving, snapping vigour that has real dancefloor appeal, as do a number of other pieces with a similarly punchy, strident dynamism. The bright chording of 'Major Changes' belies the downward cast of its subject matter, Brexit, while the evening's finale, 'Mandingo Brass', is an utterly hypnotic calypso in which the resonant clang of the percussion provides a piercing, entrancing rotation into which drums, bass and piano are drawn before the horns skip heartily into action. Inspired by a band he was in during his formative years in the West Indies, the song has the energy of what is known in the locality as a 'road march', meaning that the sub-text of people letting go to 'jump up' is well to the fore. Joyous as the ensemble playing is, the detail in the individual performances really counts, chief among them being Rollins' enticingly round, bulbous tone that evokes as much the lineage of great latin players such as Raoul De Souza as it does the American titan Curtis Fuller. Then again, Rebello's comping, full of fleet, fluttering, percolating lines, often judiciously filling the breathing space between the horn phrases, serves the important purpose of providing a full spectrum of colour for music that conveys all of the wine-yuh-down abandon of carnival.

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Having said that, the introspective side of Toussaint the composer also marks the evening. 'Interlude For Idris' and 'Letters To Milena' are gently charming ballads in which the noble whisper of Wallen's trumpet seals the underlying reverence of the music. Yet Toussaint, whose finesse of tone and well-paced, patiently graduated solos, are a reminder of what Blakey heard in him all those years ago, is entirely clear in his mission statement – an evocation of the spirits of 'Buh', Mingus, Monk, Duke and Caribbean and Cuban legends such as Ray Barretto. The result is a statement of modernity borne of tradition that strikes a parallel with the work of The Cookers on the other side of the Atlantic. Those two bands on one bill would be a very hot ticket.

Kevin Le Gendre
Photos by Carl Hyde

 

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