Wild Card beat the heat at Ronnie’s Bar

It was fitting, perhaps, that Clement Regert's (above) groove jazz outfit Wild Card should have arrived at Ronnie's upstairs bar on one of the hottest nights of the year. Scorched by the London heat, the audience was then scalded by Wild Card's horns, steamed by the Hammond, then blasted by a powerhouse of a performance from stand-in drummer Francesco Mendolia (below, of Incognito), constantly stretching the beat and throwing rhythmic ideas around.


Wild Card takes an eclectic approach to genre: if the audience are itching to the groove, it works. A funked-up version of 'Beat It', started by Regert's glossy guitar melody and supported by Mendolia's chinking percussion, and concluded by Jim Knight's summit-charging solo on alto sax, led onto 'Heartshape Box', a muscular, driving funk take on the Nirvana tune that opened deceptively smoothly before roaring into life with another massive sax solo. Alistair White (below) on trombone matched Knight in adrenaline, though perhaps his stand-out moment was the yowling, muted accompaniment on 'Fever'. The vocals were performed by another new collaborator, Lily Dior. She combined ultra-precise articulation with an irresistibly sultry, yearning tone that gave her pieces some welcome breathing space after the pedal-to-the-metal instrumental numbers.


Showing the band's gentle side was 'Lullaby for Lauren', with Mendolia picking up the brushes for a samba turned sax-explosion, and 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone', featuring Alistair White's acrobatic trombone tribute to ska. Alongside the incendiary Mendolia, Regert's regular Hammond player Andy Noble often took a back seat, adding silky texture and cute melodic flourishes, but he led the swinging band through 'The Ritz' until another massive Mendolia solo blew everyone away. Occasionally, with three new players in a quintet the ensemble had a seat-of-the-pants feel to it, but such momentary raggedness just added to the gig's immediacy. On a night when the overwhelming temptation was to lie still, Wild Card had the joint jumping.

– Matthew Wright

– Photos by www.goatnoisephotography.com

SEN3 Square Circle At The Oval


The Oval Tavern in Croydon might not be the first place you'd look for new jazz talent, but that's where emerging trio SEN3 were playing their latest gig. Drawing on tunes from their debut album released in February this year, SEN3 presented a heady mix of Thrust-era Herbie Hancock funk mixed with more contemporary vibes. Bassist Dan Gulino is a regular with chart successes such as Jamie Woon and Jessie Ware, but in this trio you could sense the craft of a session pro being let loose on more cutting-edge material. He has a near-telepathic connection with drummer Saleem Raman, and the two formed the backbone of the action, with Max O'Donnell's guitar free to float lines over the top or occasionally drop into the engine room and push things forward.

'Benson Dealer' began with luxurious slow neo-soul chords, before kicking into another gear and evoking late 1970s Headhunters. Raman laid straight 16ths across a shifting 7/4 structure in 'The Drop', which had echoes of Roller Trio. O'Donnell's natural ear for melody came into its own, with his long phrases contrasting against Gulino's busy counterpoint, culminating in a scintillating drum and bass groove. The set closed with a turbo-charged roast through 'Mr Clean', which would have had lesser players hanging on for dear life, before a similarly breakneck rendition of 'Actual Proof'. Gulino was fearless in flying into the central semi-quaver hook each time it came round, and Raman and O'Donnell were right there with him on every beat. One audience member passed out at the bar and had to be escorted off site – perhaps due to the potency of SEN3's grooves as much as the Friday night drinks.

– Jon Carvell

Simon Spillett Quartet swing hard in homage to Harry South

Harry South has been an overlooked figure in British jazz, yet this pianist, composer and arranger not only played with some of the major musicians of his time – including Tubby Hayes, Dick Morrissey and Joe Harriott – but was held in such high esteem generally that when Georgie Fame decided to record his 1965/6 album Sound Venture, Harry was the arranger and big band leader that the young vocalist wanted.

As a celebration of his life and work, the Spice of Life saw Simon Spillett perform an evening of numbers associated with Harry, to coincide with the release of The Songbook, a 4CD set of Harry's work. An appropriate choice of saxophonist, given Spillett's in-depth knowledge of the playing of Hayes and Morrissey and his own straight-ahead technique.

Kicking off with 'Downhome', which was the Morrissey/South theme tune, the quartet showed immediately what the audience could expect – a hard driving attack full of fluency and swing, using the compositions as vehicles on which the soloists could stretch out. Baltimore-born bassist Tim Wells held a pivotal position around which the others weaved and he took impressively lyrical and commanding solos; Spillett's muscular, full-toned approach combined with fast sinewy lines while pianist John Horler and drummer Trevor Tomkins showed the kind of interaction that often only comes with years of playing together.

The Stan Tracey ballad 'Little Miss Sadly' (Spillett's tenor moving from forthright blowing to a mellow response) and 'Off The Wagon', were taken from the Morrissey/South album Here and Now, as was 'Corpus', in which Horler's variations drew sensitive and thoughtful support from Tomkins, who adeptly alternated between sticks, brushes and rutes to create the desired effect. In return, the pianist's economy of touch through an occasional chord, phrase or note during the drum solo on 'Simple Waltz', underlined their mutual awareness. And when Spillett came in to double the tempo, there were smiles all round and Tomkins, completely unfazed, took it in his stride and once more showed what an excellent player he is.

Other numbers played included 'The Scandinavian', Leroy Anderson's 'Serenata' and 'Sound of Seventeen', all introduced by Spillett's laconic wit, making this a special night, especially for members of the South family who were in the audience and for the distinguished writer Brian Case, a connoisseur of hard edged tenor men, making one of his rare and welcome excursions into Soho.

– Matthew Wright
– Photo by Paul Pace

Shobaleader One take drum’n’bass to the dark side

Four figures take to the stage of The Concorde in Brighton, masked and robed like Kendo warriors – the leader slings a mighty matt-black bass over his shoulder and the band smash unhesitatingly into the mutated cop-chase funk of 'Cooper's World'. At the first beat, the masks light up in flashing multi-coloured LED displays that alter with every note they play, chasing across their faces like the console of a 1970s movie spacecraft.

This tour is the second outing for Squarepusher's Shobaleader One and his colleagues Strobe Nazard, Arg Nution and Company Laser with their live interpretations of Squarepusher's studio classics, and it's immediately apparent that this time they are determined to push the awesomeness quotient to the limit. There's so many effects on everything that it's sometimes hard to tell who's playing what – a relentless assault of slap bass and skittering drum breaks, like Level 42 gone over to the 'dark side', sitting beneath howling storms of ring-modulated noise from guitar and keys. Deliberately woozy tempo shifts even suggest the technical chug of death metal, and indicate the levels of musical skill and precision at work behind the sci-fi aliases – the anonymous masked jazzers are among the country's finest progressive players, and the 'Pusher himself is a phenomenal high-velocity bassist as well as being a cult hero to the crowd of frantically moshing drum'n'bass fans.

There's a risk that music this intense will suffer from diminishing returns over a 90-minute set but Laser's incredible energy pushes things along, always managing to take it even higher on surge after surge of pounding drums. Technical problems send a hapless roadie scurrying to the rescue with spare bass amps, but the band rise to the occasion and ride it out, leaving the audience dazed, deaf and ecstatically happy.

– Eddie Myer

Frank Williams' African Jazz Quartet bring South African sunshine to Oxford's St Aldates


After Frank Williams left South Africa in 1978 he made his name in the UK in the 1980s playing with fellow South African jazz exiles in Chris McGregor's legendary Brotherhood of Breath and, later, Dudu Pukwana's Zila. For this show the tenor saxophonist brought his long history with township music to a packed upstairs pub room in Oxford. He was joined by guitarist Cameron Pierre, originally from Dominica, but a UK resident since he was 18, long-time collaborator Ghanan Kofu Adu on the drums and recent Royal College of Music graduate Ben Havinden-Williams on electric bass.

Tunes by both Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana were part of a first half dominated by Williams' long solos. He was on fine form and commanding attention, whether chugging away or exploiting his rich tone to full on a ballad that morphed into a semi funk. But even the authority of his playing couldn't conceal the fact that, with the exception of a brief sally by Cameron Pierre, his colleagues were rather tentative. Williams mentioned that the band hadn't rehearsed, so maybe this was the reason why.

Whether it was a half-time beer, the bandmembers getting more comfortable with one another or a desire to get on Williams' wavelength, the group upped their energy levels in the second half. Williams' tenor continued to be in the ascendant, but his colleagues were now making telling contributions. Williams' own compositions – 'Journey's Song', another semi-funk ballad with Cameron Pierre coming up with a neat Wes Montgomery-influenced solo and 'Cape Scape', inspired by the landscape seen through a bus window by the young Williams as he made the 10-hour journey from where he lived with his Grandmother to see his mother working in Cape Town – had echoes ranging from the pioneers of township jazz and the Jazz Epistles to the Trinidadian steelpan (this courtesy of Cameron Pierre's pedals, transforming the sound of his guitar).

The irresistible rhythms had begun to have an effect and there was a sunny atmosphere in the room with many of the crowd defying the lack of space and getting up to dance – unusual for Oxford, where audiences tend to be cool and detached. The inevitable demand for "one more song" led to a hasty conflab after which Williams led the quartet in a vibrant version of 'Hellfire', a tune that emerged from the mix of big band jazz with a traditional South African flavour in the black cultural hotbed of 1950s Sofiatown, a suburb of Johannesburg.

I wondered how this music would go down now in modern Johannesburg, but in Oxford the tune made a joyous climax to what, in the end, was a great night out.

– Colin May

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