Amy Roberts-Richard Exall Quintet Limber At Imber



Imber Court out in leafy East Molesey was once the Met Police's private playground. Now it's a sports and leisure centre open to the likes of you and I, and a regular monthly location for jazz gigs promoted by long-time fan Carole Merritt. She uses the centre's spacious dining room, bar downstairs, good sight lines, just right for a rousing couple of sets by this lively reeds pairing.

Amy Roberts and Richard Exall, multi-instrumentalists both, met while playing in the Big Chris Barber band and formed a partnership, musical and personal, touring the nation's clubs and festivals, their most recent CD a blend of hot numbers by Earl Bostic and Johnny Hodges. Not quite sweet and sour maybe, but certainly a contrast in tone and attack, thus fully borne out in their tune choices here. Still with Dave Newton on keyboard, bassist Dave Green and last-minute dep Mark Fletcher on drums, no challenge seemed too great, the entire quintet at one in despatching a truly eclectic range of numbers.

Roberts tends to the flute and rightly so, adding alto and clarinet as and when, while Exall projects best on tenor, this evident on their opener, a cheery version of 'Just Friends' with Roberts impassioned while the hyper-active Fletcher very nearly sank the ship even as Newton sailed blithely on, quirky and probing in turn. Clark Terry's 'A Pint Of Bitter', composed for his recording collaboration with Tubby Hayes, had a nice funky strut, Newton more fragmentary, Green propulsive in the best way, Fletcher throttling down, Exall's tenor like an airy amalgam of Eddie Miller and Ken Peplowski. He sang on 'Sweet Lorraine', fetchingly, and revved up on alto, Roberts likewise, as they sounded out on Bostic's '845 Stomp', raunchy and red-hot, followed by Hodges' 'Below the Azores', a feature for Roberts' very captivating flute. Then came Art Pepper's 'Popo', altos intertwined again, Fletcher's cross-rhythms abundant, as Newton dug in, Green panther-like alongside.

In a second half that included a swing version of 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' with Exall vocalising, a piece by Gilbert O'Sullivan, a serene version of 'Robbins Nest' and Exall's Monk-like 'What's Going On', all bases were touched, all tastes satisfied. This pair knows how to pick top sidemen and, more to the point, how to build a programme packed with interest and classy creativity. Seek them out.

– Peter Vacher