There’s a palpable buzz as Steve Fishwick’s Anglo-American crew take the stage for the last show on their successful UK tour – a sense of occasion created by a standing room-only crowd and the shared knowledge that The Verdict has just been voted one of the 10 best jazz clubs in Europe by The Guardian.
Immaculate in well-cut suits, the band exude relaxed confidence; after the briefest of count-ins from bassist Mike Kahn the three-horn frontline blast out the opener like a celebratory fanfare. Frank Basile on baritone takes the first solo – his unamplified horn fills the club, husky and hard, as Fishwick follows with an immaculately rendered amalgam of Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Tenor-player Osian Roberts contributes some intriguing quartal obliquities that place smiles on his band-mates faces. Then it’s over to Jeb Patton on piano, who obliges with a demonstration of exactly how it’s possible to play intelligent, lyrical and funky-as-hell all at once.
The band’s sound, and the repertoire of original compositions, hark back to that intriguing period when small-group jazz was exploring the outer limits of the post-war bop language, while staying rooted in a hard-swinging groove. Kahn is a rock on bass, reaching deep into the pocket at all times; his work on Fishwick original ‘Warne’s World’ recalls the sort of killer mid-tempo groove patented by Ron Carter. All the players contribute material bar sibling Matt Fishwick, crisply and accurately propulsive on drums. The writing is consistently detailed, varied and energetically memorable, demonstrating the continuing reinvigoration of the US mainstream by the likes of the NYSQ.
Fishwick leads with endless reserves of poise and perfectly executed high notes, and Patton pours out an unstoppable cascade of hipness. His work on Osian Roberts’ ‘Enid’ (introduced by Roberts in comically lugubrious style) alternates bewildering two-handed virtuosity with Basie-esque space and swing. Basile might just take the crown, though – his horn a cornucopia of perfectly-turned phrases, full of power and control, effortlessly lyrical and smoking hot. It’s a great match for Fishwick’s dynamic elegance, while Robert’s oblique subtlety is a perfect foil.
Despite the nearing midnight hour the crowd refuses to let the band go and the Sextet oblige with an über-cool reharmonistaion of ‘My Blue Heaven’. Roberts thanks the leader for organising the tour and overcoming ‘a logistical nightmare of Biblical proportions’. There’s a very unequal visa bar hampering the access UK musicians have to American touring, but this outstanding collaboration gives an indication of the kind of results that could be more frequent if the playing field were levelled.
– Eddie Meyer
– Photos by Dan Sheppard