It's a complex web of internationalism that binds this band together; an Englishman, a Scot, an American and a German, all resident across the far east from Singapore to Seoul, joined by a saxophonist from London, and playing here tonight in the warm refuge of The Verdict. Damon Brown is dealing out the classic hand of dry wit introducing hard bop; opener 'My Deposit' is an uptempo cooker with a tricky truncated metric interlude; Sean Pentland on bass and Manuel Weyand on drums whip up a storm as Brown floats cooly above on his battered trumpet, his tone full and clear. Weyand is a terrific drummer, powerful, subtle and swinging. 'Mongolian Bossa' is introduced as "a love song... to a camel", though there's nothing flippant about its carefully constructed harmony. Then 'Han River Tales' features an artfully constructed arrangement that lets the rhythm section show off their aptitude for subtle interplay, powerfully driving behind the horns, pulling the dynamic down to build up again behind Paul Kirby's carefully measured piano solo, breaking down again to a perfectly paced bass statement and then to a drum break which is a masterpiece of control and technique. The pretty hipster standard 'When Sunny Gets Blue' is sung by Brown in an unvarnished baritone; standing forward in the club and singing off-mic, the effect is artlessly, utterly sincere, followed up by a truly breathtaking trumpet solo, a little gem of poise and soul.
Brown and Ed Jones have a long history together. As befits the leaders of an international band, they have the appearance of seasoned voyagers who have weathered many a storm; Brown in particular, a burly figure in knitted cap, hoodie and black-rimmed specs, looks like a bebop trawlerman. As players they're very well matched, both with a tough-but-tender tone that recalls the Harold Land/Clifford Brown partnership; they both specialise in long, logically constructed melodic phrases, driven forward by an unfaltering sense of time and a tone that projects outwards into the room. The set closer is a swinging 6/8 that has the clarion call quality of an Art Blakey classic.
The second set brings a minor key Blue Note-boogaloo named for Harold Land himself, that draws a real tour de force from Brown and sees Jones live up to the tune's namesake with his urgent but perfectly poised contribution. 'Lef And Lee', a tribute to pianist Leon Greening's powerful left mitt, sees intricate bass figures give way to a deep and heavy swing from the rhythm team. Pentland and Weyand really swing like the clappers; Kirby's piano favouring thoughtful harmonic depth over flash and fire, providing an effective contrast with the frontliners. Jones calls 'Out Of Nowhere' and gives a lesson in reading a standard through the art of bop. The evening's highlight though comes with 'I Don't Mind' – an original ballad by Brown with all the grace and wit of the Great American Songbook, the melody seeming to sing the lyrics which Brown himself claims to have forgotten. 'Kit Kat' closes the evening, until crowd pressure brings the band back to deliver a hearfelt 'My Ideal'.
This was a display of unpretentious musical mastery over a noble genre, delivered in exactly the intimate small club setting it was designed for, in front of an appreciative audience – judging by the smiles on the band's faces, a welcome stop-off amid their tireless globe-trotting.
– Eddie Myer