There's a feeling that, in the past, British trombonists have tended to be overlooked or sidelined. The Goonish humour of George Chisholm's later years overshadowed the fact that he earlier recorded with Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller and Benny Carter. For every high profile player such as Chris Barber, there were numerous not so fortunate. This has changed to some extent, and a lineage now runs from Eddie Harvey, Roy Williams, John Picard, Campbell Burnap and Roy Crimmins through to Malcolm Griffiths, Nick Evans, Annie Whitehead, Dennis Rollins and Mark Nightingale. And that's ignoring the freer players like the late Paul Rutherford, Alan Tomlinson and Sarah Gail Brand. Increasingly they have fronted their own bands, and this was the case at Leam Jazz where Richard Baker's Quintet performed.
The quintet started tentatively – possibly not having played together for a while – and saxophonist Alan Wakeman had a bit of reed trouble from a new mouthpiece he was using. But after a few numbers things began to gel and there were good contributions from the percussive and expressive pianist Al Gurr, Tom Bull's full and resonant bass and Alan Savage's busy snare. Of the frontmen, Wakeman needs little introduction, his pedigree established from past associations with Graham Collier, Mike Westbrook and Barry Guy etc.
It was Baker's night though, and he seldom disappoints. Based in Rugby, he has a history of playing in classical orchestras (CBSO, English Symphony Orchestra, etc), in small groups with Mark Nightingale, Karen Sharp, Bryan Corbett, Adrian Litvinoff's Interplay and others, as well as swing and modern big bands. As a result, his technique is polished and tone distinct as he runs the whole gamut of growls and glissandos, speed and agility in handling the slide, thoughtful use of mutes and long melodic lines. He also relates to his colleagues in the band, listening and responding, and the passages of his trombone in unison and counterpoint with Wakeman were particularly strong. The second half, comprised of entirely J.J. Johnson-related material, included 'Bag's Groove' in which Wakeman's tenor effectively substituted for Kai Winding's trombone opposite Baker's J.J. horn. Another 1954 number was 'Lament' in which Baker soloed with great lyricism and sensitivity. Their version of 'Syntax' (based on 'I Got Rhythm') elicited a suitably apt comment from the audience, "Don't mention it to the Chancellor!".
– Matthew Wright