Three nights in to his five-night stay at Pizza Express, on his first UK visit for years, trumpeter Leroy Jones looked out on his house-full audience, and reflected that numbers thus far would probably ensure him a return booking and smiled. And why not? He certainly achieved a level of appreciation here that clearly heartened him and must have encouraged the club operators too.
As a New Orleans-based musician, Jones, now 57, seems to have found a way to overcome any propensity for Bourbon Street raucousness, a blight that affects many of his contemporaries. Although he trots out some pretty familiar fare, he’s a subtle player, who builds a solo with repeated phrases and sudden eruptions, his tone quite thin, the attack staccato, the lines often skating across the beat somewhat like the late Red Allen, largely avoiding the predictable. His upbringing leads him, inevitably, to honour the New Orleans lineage but he’s as likely to remind the listener of Lee Morgan and Clifford Brown in his phrase-making as he is to evoke dear old Satchmo. He talks well, engages cheerily with his audience, and sings standards in an easy-going, relaxed fashion. In short, Jones is a stylist, but an entertainer, too.
Happily, the Anglo-American ensemble assembled for this tour gave him the kind of tight, vibrant support that allowed him the necessary freedom to range well away from mere melodic reiteration. In the absence of a piano, local guitarist Dave Archer provided the right harmonic undertow combining with the impassive bassist Fergus Ireland in a propulsive embrace, further enhanced by drummer Pedro Segundo. Theirs was literate swing, marked by variation and carried with cheerful verve, Segundo deploying a range of fills and extra flourishes that enriched everything, whether in solo or in the section. He swings hard and must be counted among the very best percussionists on our scene today. The final member of the quintet was trombonist-manager Katja Toivola, Leroy’s life partner, who filled out the front-line harmonies capably and soloed in typical Crescent City style. Nothing fancy, you could say.
When Leroy spotted an old friend, guitarist Denny Ilett Jr and brought him on for the encore, it was the ubiquitous ‘Saints’ that they chose to play, Jones transforming this weary old war-horse into something quite fresh, Ilett also producing an improvisation that fused Django with Wes and felt good all the way through. So an evening that started with ‘The Preacher’ and went on to ‘Bogalusa Strut’ via Jones’s pretty bossa ‘Caipirinha da Lapa’ and John Casimir’s archetype New Orleans bounce on ‘Whooping Blues’, ended in triumph on one of the most hackneyed of Crescent City tunes. Oh well.
– Peter Vacher
The Quintet’s UK tour dates feature Joe Stilgoe or Ian Shaw at the following venues:
Alban Arena, St. Albans (29 Oct); Royal Hall, Harrogate (1 Nov); Rose Theatre, Kingston (2 Nov); Festival Theatre, Malvern (3 Nov); The Concorde Club, Southampton (4 Nov); Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells (5 Nov); Lighthouse, Poole (7 Nov); The Apex, Bury St Edmonds (9 Nov) and RNCM, Manchester (11 Nov).