Geoff Simkins/Gareth Williams Quartet take fleet-fingered flights at The Verdict

Spring heralds the welcome arrival of many elusive species to the coast; this is the second appearance this year by rarely-sighted Sussex altoist Geoff Simkins (pictured top), the first being his memorable double-header with Bobby Wellins at the inaugural South Coast Jazz Festival in January. Tonight he’s reunited with stellar band-mates Gareth Williams and Martin France, the latter fresh from his recent recorded collaboration with John Taylor and Dave Holland.

A murmured count-in, and they break into a fast-paced group improvisation that only reveals itself as ‘How Deep Is The Ocean’ in it’s closing stages. Simkins is a master at work, utterly in control – he begins cool and unhurried, playing seamless legato melodies that break suddenly into effortless double time runs as he builds in intensity in tandem with France’s churning polyrhythms before passing the baton to Williams, who picks it up with a display of extravagant Tyner-esque virtuosity.

The set list includes seldom-heard material by Simkin’s stylistic antecedent Lee Konitz, alongside tunes by Earl Zindars, Lennie Tristano and Thelonious Monk. Simkin’s tone is a thing of wonder: rounded, burnished and even, with a West-Coast sweetness concealing an acid bite. It’s shown to stunning effect on a transcendent reading of the Gordon Jenkins ballad ‘Goodbye’, but is equally as intoxicating when coupled with his speed and accuracy, as he takes several unaccompanied choruses of ‘Cherokee’ at breakneck pace.

The excellently matched line-up is impeccably anchored by bassist Simon Woolf, whose solos are models of beautifully precise construction and impressive upper-register technique, and provides perfect support for Simkins. If the latter’s approach is rooted in the poise and restraint of the ‘Cool School’, he’s unruffled by the assertive modernism of William’s playing or France’s loud, restless drumming; on every tune he takes flight and soars, to the delight of the capacity crowd. A recording of this well-matched band would be welcome, or at least another sighting of it before the season’s over.

– Eddie Myer

James Allsopp Quartet turn standards inside out at The Vortex

The second set did not get underway especially auspiciously, drummer Tim Giles having seemingly mislaid his pint, reluctantly abandoning the search in order to join the other members of the band onstage. And James Allsopp appeared rather downcast about the whole affair, suggesting that this might portend a rather subdued and dispirited contribution from his drummer. But the result was quite the contrary, as the quartet scaled the heights of the show during the second number of the second set; a burning, blazing, emotionally engaging rendition of Coltrane’s ‘Mr Day’, during which Tim Giles contributed with gusto, more powerfully than is typically the case when a jazz drummer plays standards. ‘Mr Day’ was such a standout because it was the light to the shade of many of the other tunes performed throughout the evening.

Allsopp’s intention in assembling this quartet was to play, relatively straight, tunes associated with the great composers of jazz, including but not limited to Ellington, Parker, and Coltrane. Thus, ‘On the Street Where You Live’, ‘A Nightingale sang in Berkley Square’, ‘The Man I love’, ‘The Best Thing for You’, and an adaptation of Charlie Parker’s ‘Confirmation’ were all performed. It is sometimes said that the great instrumentalists know the lyrics and express their meaning when performing standards and certainly some of Allsopp’s phrasing recalled singers, both household names and those more obscure. Appropriately then, the mood he established for much of the evening was one of tender lyricism, giving rise to some achingly soulful moments.  

Particularly notable were the sparks generated in the interplay between Kit Downes on piano and Allsopp, and then Downs and Giles. Downes caressed the keys of the piano but extracted ample volume for a nearly-full Vortex, through a remarkable lightness of touch that facilitated fleet fingered explorations in response to Allsopp’s heartfelt thematic statements and harmonic ideas. Riaan Vosloo on double bass was a little more self-effacing in his contributions than the other three, although with perhaps more than a hint of the influence of Charlie Haden in his playing, of making every note count, each serving the foundations of the music impeccably.    

The London jazz scene is particularly well-endowed with outstandingly talented young saxophonists, with George Crowley’s triumphant album launch gig at the same venue still fresh in the memory, which also featured another, Tom Challenger, and now this memorable performance from James Allsop to mention just three of several. Allsopp moves seamlessly through several contexts, from the big stage (as a soloist in the Ellington in Anticipation project) all the way through to informal jam sessions.

Apart from ‘Mr Day’, Tim Giles also shone on a rendition of ‘Giant Steps’. For the final number, a performance of ‘Airegin’ by Sonny Rollins, the quartet reverted to the more powerfully expressive mode of ‘Mr Day’, if not quite scaling the same heights of expressiveness. The end was signalled by a raised eyebrow from Allsop; a sign of modest surprise perhaps at what he and his quartet had accomplished.  

-– Graham Boyd                      

Dave O’Higgins/Geoff Gascoyne bring the swing to The Verdict

Dave O’Higgins takes to the stage wearing a natty brown pinstripe and an air of unshakeable confidence; behind him, Geoff Gascoyne exudes a similarly relaxed gravitas on bass; it’s apparent that these gentlemen mean business. The set opens with a characteristic O’Higgins contrafact; a snaking, boppish melody written over the changes of ‘Topsy’ and re-named ‘Autopsy’, apparently in tribute to his wife, a forensic pathologist.

O’Higgins’ tenor is light-toned but biting, his poise and timing immaculate; subsequent solos from Gascoyne and pianist Robin Aspland match him in clarity, punch and precision. To follow, a Gascoyne original, ‘Embrace’ , in a natural sounding seven meter, launches the composer into a sure-footed and effortlessly melodic solo; then the evergreen ‘Everything I Love’ sends Aspland off on a knockout piano display over an elastic trampoline of swing, topped by drummer Matt Fishwick evoking the spirit of Philly Joe in a beautifully executed solo on the traps.

The band have built a reputation on their spirited evocation of the Golden Age era as it evolved into the 1970s mainstream, typified by their George Coleman-inspired reading of ‘Autumn In New York’. O’Higgins switches to soprano without losing any of his accuracy or presence, and the band demonstrate a perfect command of repertoire and genre to the last impressive sax cadenza. If the leaders’ original compositions seem efficient rather than transcendent next to the classics, they never fail to showcase the band’s strengths.

Matt Fishwick is depping tonight for regular Sebastian De Krom, and as the set progresses his generally imperturbable performance occasionally misfires on a couple of arrangements. This could be problematic - this music depends upon ease and fluency of execution, rather than inspired artistic risk-taking, to pay its fullest dividends. Fortunately there’s also plenty of bravura on hand to set things back on track, and by the end of penultimate tune, the uptempo stormer ‘Guess’, the full house is baying for more. They were rewarded with a vulpine smile from O’Higgins and a typically muscular, swinging ‘Mack The Knife’ sounding freshly minted, for an encore.

– Eddie Myer

Gareth Lockrane’s Big Band blow hard at Ronnie Scott’s

GL-Big-Band

With a Gareth Lockrane gig you always get more than you bargained for: the latest outing of his Big Band at Ronnie’s on Sunday night amounted to two-and-a-half hours of tasty originals, each given an epic 18-piece treatment in front of a packed house. Leading off with the feisty ‘Fist Fight at the Barn Dance’, inspired by one of his late father Eric Lockrane’s powerhouse harmonica riffs, and taking its title from a tune his dad never got round to writing, it was James Gardiner-Bateman who threw the first punch with a riveting solo on soprano sax.

‘Dark Swinger’ was treated to a new intro, with Lockrane lulling us into a false sense of security on flute before they all hared off at twice the tempo with the tune proper and the bandleader unleashed his secret weapon of the evening – one Phil Robson on guitar. Lockrane’s own solo was pleasingly lilting and wayward in equal measure, with a cowboy movie feel to the middle chorus, before he handed over to trumpet supremo Steve Fishwick followed by Neil Sidwell on trombone, nagging away like a trapped bluebottle, then freeing himself with lush deep swathes of sound. After Ryan Trebilcock’s bass solo cleverly notched the tune back to a lazy swing, the band resumed section by section to fire on all cylinders ahead of Tristan Maillot's tumultuous drum solo. Finally, Lockrane called time with a lovely cadenza bringing it back into more mellow territory for the outro, with the horns supplying a steady block of harmony. And breathe. That was just the second number!

Halfway into the first set, there was a shift in mood with the lovely melancholic ballad ‘We’ll Never Meet Again’, which Lockrane plays movingly on bass flute, underpinned on this occasion by horn players Julian Siegel and Graeme Blevins taking up their flutes. There were some immensely satisfying horn soli sections in this piece, and Robson supplied another incredibly inventive guitar solo that really got stuck into the DNA of the tune. Lockrane followed this up with the wildly exotic ‘Aby7inia’, written in 7/4 time and kicking off with a freewheeling riff laced with horn stabs. Robbie Robson (no relation to Phil to my knowledge) delivered a fabulous trumpet solo while the rest of the horns were roving around below, and the whole thing ended with an addictive guitar and bass vamp that could quite easily have gone on for another ten minutes.

They rounded off the first set with the title tune from Gareth’s most recent Grooveyard album, namely ‘The Strut’. This was the moment when Lockrane wheeled out his new toy, an interval effects pedal, which gave this cocky Eddie Harris-inspired tune - and Lockrane’s delicious hallmark sound - a whole new dimension.
In the second set Lockrane premiered a big band version of his tune ‘Surf’s Up’, written after a painful surfing accident. This also employed three flutes to great effect on the head with Ross Stanley switching expertly from piano to Hammond organ and Julian Siegel invited to ride the waves on tenor with a gorgeously risky solo.

Lockrane’s former collaborator and mentor, South African pianist Bheki Mseleku has been a big influence on both his writing and his playing, and this debt is acknowledged in the beautifully driving tribute piece ‘One for Bheki’, which brought out a reflective side to several of Gareth’s talented band members and featured Richard Shepherd briefly on bass clarinet.

Last but not least was a buzzy new arrangement of ‘5B3 Boogie’, which brought the second set to an enthralling close. The band looked happy but spent, folding away their four-foot long sheet music, but the audience was begging for more and got as their final reward an off-the-cuff dash through ‘Dennis Irwin’, with Lockrane ending the night on piccolo - an instrument that surely needs renaming after Lockrane has made it sound anything but small – in fact, he’s pretty single-handedly put the ‘big’ back into big band.

– Sarah Chaplin

Linley Weir sings Stevie and Elling at Pizza Express Jazz Club

This is the third in a trio of vocal-led Sunday lunchtime gigs I’ve attended at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in the last few weeks, and it was easily the most ambitious of the three. Linley Weir is a singer with a compelling, almost spiritual presence, and a strong command of the jazz idiom. She presented a wide arc of material capturing all her vocal qualities, writing skills and rhythmic feel. Starting with a couple of well-known latin standards, ‘No More Blues’ and ‘Besame Mucho’, she led her band into other less well-trodden territory with ‘Travelling Man’, an innovative Kurt Elling number and a nicely phrased and reharmonised version of ‘In A Sentimental Mood’. Acknowledging the occasion of Mother’s Day, she’d even penned a new tune about a mother’s love, which was very well received.

In the second set, Weir really got into her stride, showcasing another of her own songs ‘Flyaway’, a driving, flowing tour de force. The audience was also treated to a soulful, heartfelt rendition of ‘If I Ruled the World’, which featured a beautifully melancholic harmonica solo from bassist Andy Hamill, and had a fabulous ending which left everyone hanging.

John Crawford is Linley’s pianist of choice, and his muscular feel and extended harmonies perfectly complement her chocolaty tone. Equally fitting was her decision to perform Jobim’s joyful songs ‘The Waters of March’, with its bucolic lyrics of haiku-like simplicity. At times the two of them wove their instruments together like one seamless texture, all pleasingly accented by Simon Pearson on drums and Hamill, delicate but forthright on bass.

If I were to make any comparisons about Linley’s voice it’s like Eliane Elias mingled with Stevie Wonder, especially when she’s singing the Stevie song ‘Send One Your Love’, showcasing her captivating low register and the pure, steady sound across her entire range. We had some glimpses of her scatting too, which is inventive, lively and free. Weir approaches each song with an intelligent freshness, altering the melody here and there with effective new touches, which worked particularly well with Annie Ross’s song ‘Twisted’, taking us away from the Joni Mitchell version into an infectious bluesy all-out party-piece. All in all, a most enjoyable lunch date.

– Sarah Chaplin

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On the band's website, beside big ups from Gilles Peterson...

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Asaf Sirkis Trio and Tori Freestone take flight at The Verdict

Asaf Sirkis Trio and Tori Freestone take…

Music may be the healing force of the universe but...

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Riley Stone Lonergan/Dave Drake Band free-bopping in Brighton

Riley Stone Lonergan/Dave Drake Band fre…

For such a bijou venue, the Verdict has attracted it’s...

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To Be or Not to Bebop – Derek Nash & Alan Barnes keep the flame alight in Shakespeare land

To Be or Not to Bebop – Derek Nash &…

Alan Barnes appeared at Stratford Jazz Club (at No.1 Shakespeare...

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Jasper Høiby unveils Qualia at The Vortex

Jasper Høiby unveils Qualia at The Vorte…

  Bassist and bandleader Jasper Høiby wears a well-earned smile. It’s...

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Young jazz talents shine at Jazztopad Festival

Young jazz talents shine at Jazztopad Fe…

What defines the festive in festival is not hard to...

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Daymé Arocena showcases soulful talents at The Forge

Daymé Arocena showcases soulful talents …

At just 22 years of age, Cuban singer Daymé Arocena...

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Chris Mapp’s Gonimoblast and Arve Henriksen burst out of the sonic darkness at The Crossing

Chris Mapp’s Gonimoblast and Arve Henrik…

Chris Mapp was one of three ‘Fellows’ (the other two...

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Rising sax star Melissa Aldana gets cooking at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Rising sax star Melissa Aldana gets cook…

It isn’t unusual at events such as the London Jazz...

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Filomena Campus’ spellbinding Monk homage at Theatralia Jazz Fest

Filomena Campus’ spellbinding Monk homag…

Curated by the award winning jazz vocalist, lyricist, lecturer and...

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Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company and Alex Garnett’s Bunch of Five & NYSQ swing London Jazz Fest out in style

Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company an…

The EFG London Jazz Festival’s final day allowed the fleet...

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Kurt Elling, Get the Blessing and Ralph Towner ensure Pančevo punches above its weight

Kurt Elling, Get the Blessing and Ralph …

Hosted in the city’s Cultural Centre and featuring a line-up...

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 Cuban Mela fires up at Camden Forge

Cuban Mela fires up at Camden Forge

The Cuban Mela was inarguably the LJF’s most vibrant closing...

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Terri Lyne Carrington and Charenee Wade hit celebratory soulful groove down at Ronnie Scott’s

Terri Lyne Carrington and Charenee Wade …

If there is such a thing as the short straw...

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Liane Carroll Trio wraps up LJF in fine style at 606

Liane Carroll Trio wraps up LJF in fine …

  Consummate performer and every singer’s vocal idol, Liane Carroll, sidles...

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James Pearson and WordTheatre presents ‘And All That Jazz’

James Pearson and WordTheatre presents ‘…

WordTheatre, a company specialising in live readings of stories by...

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Sam Braysher, Nick Costley-White, The Dixie Ticklers with Johnny Mars set sail at Jazz Nursery

Sam Braysher, Nick Costley-White, The Di…

The Jazz Nursery, set aboard a magnificent replica of Sir...

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Simon Spillett plays up a storm for Foyles launch of Tubby Hayes – A Man in a Hurry

Simon Spillett plays up a storm for Foyl…

Last Thursday saw the launch of the Tubby Hayes documentary...

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Legends gather in somber tribute to Kenny Wheeler at Cadogan Hall

Legends gather in somber tribute to Kenn…

We were promised a smorgasbord of jazz royalty at this...

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Cécile McLorin Salvant draws on the past to captivate at Cadogan Hall

Cécile McLorin Salvant draws on the past…

After a lovely low-key opening set from Femi Temowo, featuring...

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Alto Sax Reigns Supreme At Belgrade Jazz Fest

Alto Sax Reigns Supreme At Belgrade Jazz…

The theme at this year’s Belgrade Jazz Festival was ‘The...

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Hiatus Kaiyote bring cutting edge future-soul to The Concorde

Hiatus Kaiyote bring cutting edge future…

There’s a crush of boho twentysomethings up against Brighton’s Concorde...

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Steve Smith grooves hard with Vital Information NYC at Ronnie Scott’s

Steve Smith grooves hard with Vital Info…

It was the early 1990s when this writer first discovered...

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Knoel Scott takes on tradition at the 100 Club

Knoel Scott takes on tradition at the 10…

If walls could talk then the 100 Club, squeezed between...

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Hypnotised by Hindi Zahra at London's Elgar Room

Hypnotised by Hindi Zahra at London's El…

Given the limitless ocean of music in which the world...

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Turning up the heat at the Tampere Jazz Happening

Turning up the heat at the Tampere Jazz …

Festival directors often have to unhitch hitches right in the...

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Elephant9 turn up the voltage at Electric Brixton

Elephant9 turn up the voltage at Electri…

While Elephant9’s recent studio sets might’ve inaugurated amassing embroideries of...

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Marcos Valle Makes Do At The Brooklyn Bowl

Marcos Valle Makes Do At The Brooklyn Bo…

When taking an evening to see a true legend of...

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Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express Reunite With Jim Mullen At The Jazz Cafe

Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express Reunite W…

It had been forty years since the legendary Jim Mullen...

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Sheryl Bailey gets playful and virtuosic at the Bull’s Head

Sheryl Bailey gets playful and virtuosic…

Sheryl Bailey, one of New York’s foremost guitarists and now...

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Salzburg swings to Jazz & The City

Salzburg swings to Jazz & The City

Austria’s place in the jazz firmament has been well established...

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Vula Viel Launch Good is Good to a rapturous Rich Mix

Vula Viel Launch Good is Good to a raptu…

Last time Jazzwise took an evening to see Bex Burch’s...

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Sheryl Bailey Quartet get Swinging at 606

Sheryl Bailey Quartet get Swinging at 60…

There is a significant coterie of jazz fans that come...

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Leroy Jones Quintet get Soho swinging in style

Leroy Jones Quintet get Soho swinging in…

Three nights in to his five-night stay at Pizza Express...

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Liane Carroll dazzles with vintage performance at Celebrate Voice Festival

Liane Carroll dazzles with vintage perfo…

Liane Carroll celebrated, life, jazz and the unrestrained joy of...

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Huw V Williams’ Hon storms The Vortex

Huw V Williams’ Hon storms The Vortex

On a rainy evening in Dalston, 21 October – ‘Back...

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Bill Frisell bewitches with Strings at Ronnie Scott’s

Bill Frisell bewitches with Strings at R…

It’s a great recipe: take a string quartet line-up, dispense...

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Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet digs deep at Ronnie Scott’s

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet digs deep at …

For the first time in eleven years, leading US drummer...

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Joel Harrison Quartet get cooking at Pizza Express

Joel Harrison Quartet get cooking at Piz…

The advance billing might have suggested a Joel Harrison solo...

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Aaron Parks Trio goes Zen at Kings Place

Aaron Parks Trio goes Zen at Kings Place…

I’m writing this with one eye on an article about...

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Beat poetry meets backbeats with Barry Wallenstein and Mike Hobart’s Urban Jazz Collective at Vortex

Beat poetry meets backbeats with Barry W…

New York beat poet Barry Wallenstein joined Mike Hobart’s Urban...

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Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival blasts off with Birchall, Brand and more

Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival blast…

With its emphasis on adventurous programming and bids to redress...

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Dave Drake and Riley Stone-Lonergan offer an enthralling glimpse of the future

Dave Drake and Riley Stone-Lonergan offe…

 Anyone bold or foolhardy enough to essay a career in...

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Bobby Wellins brings bright-eyed energy to the Verdict

Bobby Wellins brings bright-eyed energy …

Bobby Wellins is unique; a near contemporary of Rollins, Shorter...

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Stan Sulzmann Quartet weaves wonders at The Vortex

Stan Sulzmann Quartet weaves wonders at …

Stan Sulzmann stepped in for an indisposed Bobby Wellins on Saturday...

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Phronesis, Tingvall and Marsalis power up at Palatia Jazz Festival

Phronesis, Tingvall and Marsalis power u…

The two evenings that we visited the Palatia Jazz Festival...

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Fletch’s Brew whip up an Electric Stew at the Vortex

Fletch’s Brew whip up an Electric Stew a…

As Fletch’s Brew steamed through two sets at the Vortex...

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Robert Glasper Trio digs deep at The Hub, Edinburgh

Robert Glasper Trio digs deep at The Hub…

As the audience waits for the Robert Glasper Trio to...

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Steve Fishwick Trio Out To Lunch at Cadogan Hall, London

Steve Fishwick Trio Out To Lunch at Cado…

I’m tempted to paraphrase the old musician’s joke about not...

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Mark Guiliana, Matt Brewer and John Escreet unlock jazz’s secrets in Siena

Mark Guiliana, Matt Brewer and John Escr…

Such is the quite breathtaking beauty of one of Italy’s...

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Bennett and Gaga, Snarky Puppy and The Bad Plus/Joshua Redman top triumphant Umbria Jazz Festival

Bennett and Gaga, Snarky Puppy and The B…

Umbria Jazz is a brand and like all brands it’s...

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Avishai Cohen and Marcus Miller burn in the heat of Jazz á Vienne

Avishai Cohen and Marcus Miller burn in …

  One of the biggest French summer Festivals enjoyed the hottest...

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Brad Shepik’s Trio explore a Changing Climate

Brad Shepik’s Trio explore a Changing Cl…

Guitarist and educator Brad Shepik’s compositions have attracted sufficient attention...

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Zara McFarlane stretches out at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho

Zara McFarlane stretches out at Pizza Ex…

Singer and composer Zara McFarlane played to sold-out crowds at...

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Nigel Price Organ Trio 25 July 2015, Kings Place

Nigel Price Organ Trio 25 July 2015, Kin…

  In Michael Chabon’s 2012 novel Telegraph Avenue, the fictitious jazz...

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