Quintet-a-Tete and Buck Clayton Legacy Band get Mainstream At The Mill moving

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The team at Watermill Jazz in Dorking seem to like mixing the up-and-coming with the well-established when picking bands and performers for their weekly concerts. And that's not to reflect any very particular stance on style – if bands have something to say, then let them be heard seems to be the philosophy. At least, that's the impression conveyed by two recent bookings.

Which brings us, first, to Quintet-a-Tete, trumpeter James Davison (above) and trombonist Callum Au's brand-new group, coupling these resourceful front-liners to a world-class rhythm section with Gabriel Latchin, piano, Misha Mullov-Abbado, bass, and that most impactive of drummers, Matt Skelton. The declared aim of this bright and shiny line-up is to remind audiences of the joyous music recorded by the Clark Terry-Bob Brookmeyer Quintet back in the 1960s. So illustrious shoes to fill but on this evidence, Quintet-a-Tete have made a highly encouraging start on their new pathway, happily culling material from the CT-BB albums while penning nifty new pieces themselves.

Even more important perhaps, this personable young band has the kind of collective joie-de-vivre that relates well to that of their exemplars, communicating disarmingly, with Davison skittish in attack, the arc of his notes sometimes recalling Terry, as he moved from plungered trumpet to flugelhorn and back again. Au, alongside on the valved instrument, gathered strength as the night wore on, his explorations increasingly complex with Latchin impeccable in all his solo opportunities, the clarity of his lines evoking something of Hank Jones or Tommy Flanagan. Clearly a talent to watch as is bassist MM-A, already a forceful presence on the edgier contemporary scene and here combining with the helter-skelter drive of Skelton to often thrilling effect.

Q-a-T opened, reasonably enough, with Terry's 'Tete-a-Tete', before tackling Au's 'Me Time', a contrafact for 'All of Me' with a perky theme, pleasing voicings for the horns and an altogether satisfying resolution. Moving on from these lively riff themes, they calmed down with 'Polka Dots', this revealing Davison's relaxed ballad manner before two rousers in Roger Kellaway's 'Step Right Up and 'The King, hard-swinging, expressive, the rhythm section on heat. More originals, ballad re-workings and peppy re-runs of the Terry-Brookmeyer repertoire signalled a band with purpose who seek to please, this smallish crowd clamouring for [and getting] more. A recording is in the offing; meanwhile, badger your local club to hire them.

Alyn Shipton's Buck Clayton Legacy Band has been around for a while now and attracted a full house a week earlier, opening with their instigator's 'Outer Drive' at full pelt, drummer Bobby Worth, as ever, excelling in achieving swing, the ensemble momentum quite exhilarating. All the band's soloists took their turns, co-leader Mathias Seuffert's early Hawkins tenor style assertive and full-toned, pianist Martin Litton neat and assured. Thereafter, they moved off the expected script and morphed into a Ellington/Hodges tribute band, tackling a number of familiar Ducal specialties with genuine aplomb, Alan Barnes' clarinet on 'Creole Love Call' as intense and yes, as soulful as I can ever remember hearing from him. He was back on alto for his arrangement of 'Three and Six', soaring in ballad mode. Other high notes came with 'C Jam Blues' in the Mel Lewis arrangement and 'Shady Side', also a contrafact, this time by Hodges, which was a slow groover, Barnes again to the fore. The brass team did their stuff well, cornetist Menno Daams always looking for lines that eschewed the obvious in his solo passages. Likeable music, highly accomplished, always creative too. Even so, I could have done with more from their stock-pile of well-made Clayton originals: aren't they what this band is set up to play?

– Peter Vacher (story and photos)