Jean Toussaint and Gareth Williams bring the house down at Jazz Direct

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JeanToussaint250Jack Pine has been running his in-house concerts under the banner of Jazz Direct for some years now. When we say in-house we mean in his house, as his period home, The White Cottage, in leafy Harrow Weald has been enlarged sufficiently to permit seating for 40+ interested parties, with a performance niche that easily accommodates a quartet. Would that we could all fulfil such an aim – happily for us, the Pines had invited this all-star foursome to drop by and we were rewarded with a two-set concert that surpassed everyone’s expectations. A good piano helps, and the Pine’s Steinway Grand had Gareth Williams enthusing but above all it was the quality of the interplay that riveted everyone’s attention.

The opening ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ set out their collective stall pretty well, each man poised to pounce on the appropriate creative responses. Toussaint (pictured above) has something of Coltrane’s cry in his tenor tone, the attack more akin to the rough and tumble of present-day Rollins, each theme subjected to skittish, high-register runs, the imperatives from Tracey’s drums almost relentless in their intensity. Williams, for his part, made every solo excursion a journey of discovery, chording heavily before unfolding an array of apparently casual runs, from end to end of the keyboard, with Burgess taking the baton and running hard for the line in his solos. ‘Body and Soul’ always a test-piece for tenors, seemed almost skeletal, the beauty in the quartet’s treatment primed by Toussaint’s restraint.

Wayne Shorter’s ‘Mahjong’ came like a bolt from the blue, its zig-zag shape waking everybody up, with Toussaint at his most alert, Williams finding harmonic options that seemed wholly fresh and new and Clark Tracey swinging hard, his every accent injecting pace and propulsion. More good things followed on ‘Softly As In A Morning Sunrise’ before bassist Sam Burgess’s solo on Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ very nearly brought the house down. Thankfully not literally, for the final ‘Resolution’ was a triumph too; so much so that Pine couldn’t let his guests go without calling for some decent, down-home blues to cheer us on our way. A great night’s music-making.

– Peter Vacher