Kenny Clayton’s swinging 80th birthday gig at Ronnie Scott’s

There are certain people who have fallen under the radar as far as popular recognition is concerned, but ask any Soho-ite or working musician and they will confirm their admiration and respect for pianist Kenny Clayton. Kenny has been around for some time, working as accompanist for numerous singers, musical director in West End shows, composer of film, stage, TV and incidental music, but he’s also known as a gifted and inventive jazz pianist. Ronnie Scott’s was the apt location for this 80th birthday tribute to him. His long standing associate, singer Paul Ryan, went through a selection from the Great American Songbook, the rhythm section in the capable hands of bassist John Rees Jones, drummer Mike Osborne and, depping for Kenny, who is recovering from a broken wrist, Barry Booth on piano.

The trio began with Ellington’s ‘Do Nothing ’Til You Hear From Me’ then were joined by Ryan, going through numbers that he regularly performs with Kenny – ‘Have You Met Miss Jones’, ‘September in the Rain’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, ‘Blame It On My Youth’, and others by the great composers – Rodgers and Hart, Arlen, Warren and Gershwin. The way Ryan handled Ervin Drake’s poignant ‘It Was a Very Good Year’ sounded as if it could have been written for him. At times Booth showed a Bill Evans-like economy of expression, especially on ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’ and ‘It Never Entered My Mind’, and although the rapport wasn’t quite as sharp as when Kenny accompanies, it didn’t disappoint. Neither did Jones’ highly-proficient bass feature on ‘Softly As In a Morning Sunrise’. Osborne’s drums were highlighted on a percussive vehicle reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal’s drummer, Vernel Fournier, but they could have been effectively developed further.

Numbers weren’t confined to past standards – Californian Dave Tull’s ‘The Minutes Go Like Hours When You Sing’ added to the humour, as did a specially written tongue-in-cheek tribute to Kenny and a version of ‘South of the Border’ dedicated to Donald Trump.

It wasn’t long before Kenny made it to the piano himself, pushing through the pain barrier with ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing If I Ain’t Got That Sling” and showing his jazz and improvisational credentials by going into a 12-bar blues (which he dedicated to old friend Dudley Moore), followed by a satire on working with an unnamed but famous diva of obvious identity, then a rendition of ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner’ in the style of Brubeck’s ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk’. A medley of his favourite styles included Shearing (‘I Remember April’, ‘Lullaby of Birdland’), Stevie Wonder (‘Isn’t She Lovely’), Ray Charles (‘What’d I Say’) and Tatum (‘Body & Soul’), before he was joined in ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ by Catalan pianist Alain Guiu, one of several musicians in the audience – a pity that Guy Barker and Zoot Money didn’t have the time to sit in, but the response from the crowd showed its appreciation of a thoroughly enjoyable session.

– Matthew Wright (review and photo)

Johnathan Kreisberg Quartet on a roll at The Spin

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The synergy between ex-prog rock guitarist Johnathan Kreisberg’s quartet and The Spin audience in Oxford was palpable during what was only one of three UK stops on his European tour. No surprise, perhaps, Kreisberg declared, ‘We love The Spin’, before recommending the local ale. But this wasn’t just hyperbole – there’s a track called ‘The Spin’ on Kreisberg’s 2014 release, Wave Upon Wave.

Throughout a captivating performance Kriesberg’s rich tone and stunning virtuosity combined with his sharp imagination – chords inserted at the most unlikely of moments, with judicious use of effects pedals. The bandleader’s body language betrayed his passion for the music. He clearly feels it and wants us to feel it too, whether it’s the fierce groove of ‘Wild Animals We’ve Seen’, or when the ensemble takes a more reflective turn, as on their respectful deconstruction of ‘Stella by Starlight,’ or while lyrically dancing their way through Kreisberg’s new composition ‘Vagabond’.

The guitarist’s virtuosity was matched by the outstanding David Kikoski on keyboards, the pair exchanging extended solos which never sagged. On the footloose, jazz-rock influenced ‘Stir The Stars’, Kikoski’s smoking runs were followed by a cascade of brilliant guitar. The Spin’s cosmos was indeed stirred.

Wherever the main soloists went, the backline was there and right on it. But Rick Rosato and Colin Stranahan created more than just a platform for the guys up-front. The former’s nuanced double bass was a pure sonic pleasure, while Stranahan’s powerful African pulse at the start of ‘Until you Know’ was as unexpected as it was thrilling. An extremely beautiful version of the standard ‘We’ll Be Together Again’, served as fitting love letter between artist and audience.

– Colin May 

Jazz Rep Co splendidly concentrated at Cadogan Hall

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The Jazz Repertory Company presents ‘100 Years of Jazz… in 99 minutes’ – a conceit that needs substantiation, surely? How can an ensemble numbering just six at its peak convey the onward rush of jazz development in all its shapes and sizes from its earliest origins to the present day in a mere 99 minutes? A fallacy, something for Trade Standards to check, wouldn’t you say? Can it be true?

Well, having seen these spirited players at work before, and having again witnessed their heady mix of stylistic bravura, ready wit and sheer instrumental brio at first hand, I can happily answer in the affirmative.  Don’t just take my word for it; consider the reaction of this Sunday-night near-capacity audience, their end-of-concert ovation mixing vibrant enthusiasm and bemusement at the show of virtuosity just experienced. In short, and not for the first time, a triumph.

As ever, Richard Pite’s merry band (aka the Jazz Repertory Company) marched in first, blasting away with saxophonist Pete Long on cornet, trumpeter Enrico Tomasso on trombone, pianist Nick Dawson playing clarinet, bassist Dave Chamberlain on side drum and drummer Pite himself on sousaphone. Herein lay the clue to the concert’s ensuing success as each man (plus added attraction Georgina Jackson on vocals and trumpet) switched instruments at heroic if not bewildering speed, and in apparently fearless fashion. 

Tomasso became a heartfelt Louis, then Bix, and on to Harry James, before emulating Chet, Dizzy and Miles with a stutter or two when it came to free jazz while Long, ebullient as ever, out-swung Bechet on soprano, swooned as Trumbauer, surged as Hawk and pulsated as Bird, switching saxes, playing flute and even bass guitar as the onrush of styles dictated. Along the way, Jackson added her trenchant trumpet to ‘Sing, Sing, Sing‘, evoked Billie Holiday touchingly with her vocal on ‘Lover Man’ and generally fired up the ensemble, this allowing Tomasso to move over to trombone as and when, while Pite juggled sticks and eras with apparent insouciance.  

Having started as solo Joplin, Dawson took on every pianist from Morton to Waller and then essayed ‘Tea for Two’ in chameleon-like fashion, hardly pausing for breath between his Tatum, his Garner and his Peterson. Chamberlain had his chances to shine too, adding guitar as required, banjo even, before setting his cap at Duke’s ‘Pitter Panther, Patter’ as a tribute to the immortal Jimmy Blanton and then made for his bass guitar during ‘Birdland’, ahead of Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘The Wedding’, whose balm-like serenity signalled that time was up. So, 99 minutes? Well, no, just over.   

So, no hint of parody or pastiche, strong personal identities still maintained, in a cleverly-packaged show that worked well on Cadogan Hall’s wide-open stage, informed by deep reverence for the music, but leavened by humour and accomplished with grace and verve. 

       Peter Vacher

       Photos by Ravi Chandarana  

Gwilym Simcock Trio pay joyful tribute to Jaco at Pizza Express Jazz Club

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Captivating, insightful, lyrical, Gwilym Simcock's 'Jaco Pastorius Project’, featuring the exceptional pianist alongside bass guitar virtuoso Laurence Cottle and much in-demand drummer James Maddren, artfully explored the inner workings of Pastorius’ music in a performance of quite breathtaking beauty and, at times, startling power.

It’s remarkable to think that Pastorius' prime recording years lasted just over a decade, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, during which time he forged a signature sound which completely opened up both the role and the timbral possibilities of the instrument: intricate runs and lead melodic lines, an array of open and false harmonics, muting techniques, double stops, and fluid, sax-like solos. To this day, he’s the only electric bassist to have been inducted into the Downbeat Hall of Fame.

Aside from his piano heroes, Pastorius happens to be Simcock’s favourite jazz instrumentalist. Cottle, of course, has an intimate knowledge of this music, fronting his own Portrait Of Jaco big band which conjures up stunning recreations of the bassist’s ensemble pieces. Taken from his classic 1981 album Word of Mouth, the evening started with ‘Liberty City’ and two contrasting yet equally arresting solos from Simcock and Cottle, the trio channelling that ecstatic quality, a kind of unalloyed joyousness, which Pastorius seemed to be able to tap into at will. 

Wayne Shorter’s ‘Elegant People’, from the 1976 Weather Report album Black Market, elicited a towering solo from Cottle and one of quite astonishing potency and harmonic daring from Simcock.

The pianist also took on the special challenge of arranging a Joni Mitchell song, succeeding brilliantly in capturing that typical Mitchell trait of taking a melodic line for a walk on ‘Jericho’, from her 1977 double album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter on which Pastorius played bass. The song, which almost sounded as if it was being improvised on the spot, was especially noteworthy for the trio's dynamic control, achieving an incredible triple pianissimo at the end. ‘Kuru/Speak Like A Child’ was a showcase for Cottle’s dancing, grooving pocket, while another track from Word of Mouth, ‘Three Views of a Secret’, flaunted Cottle's Jaco-like compendium of tricks, including double stops and harmonics.

Other highlights included a coruscating ‘Young and Fine’ from Weather Report’s Mr Gone, namechecked by Simcock as his favourite Weather Report album, a brace of tracks from Pat Metheny’s remarkable debut album Bright Size Life which featured Pastorius on bass and Bob Moses on drums (the title track plus Ornette Coleman's ‘Road Trip/Broadway Blues’) and a barnstorming ‘(Used To Be A) Cha-Cha’.

As a testament to Pastorius' consummate artistry, both as a composer and performer, this was world class.

– Peter Quinn
– Photo by Lieve Boussaw

John Etheridge, Si Hayden & Interplay salute International Jazz Day

It’s a well known fact that guitarists go to hear other guitarists, and this concert in support of International Jazz Day was no exception at the Restaurant in the Park, Leamington Spa– several locally respected contemporary and blues axemen in the capacity audience showed their approval. Proceedings started with Coventry-based guitar virtuoso Si Hayden who played original compositions using a variety of techniques – fast fingered arpeggios, percussive slaps, flamenco strums, and with repeated use of the neck/fretboard showed he wasn’t afraid to take risks. Occasionally the sound was overly electronic, but a dazzlingly up-tempo version of Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ was particularly impressive.

His set was followed by John Etheridge with Adrian Litvinoff’s band Interplay, a highly successful collaboration, mixing jazz standards with ethnic and Latin-tinged numbers and inspiring strong solos, whilst pianist Neil Hunter, drummer Dave Balen and bassist Litvinoff laid down a solid rhythmic bedrock.

Pat Metheny’s ‘Hermitage’ showed the delicacy and subtlety of Hunter’s piano as well as the rich textures he can produce. Several of Litvinoff’s attractive compositions (from their CDs Introducing Interplay and Global – both well worth a listen) featured the horns of Alan Wakeman (tenor & soprano sax, flute) and Richard Baker (trombone), both interacting well with Etheridge. Understandably possibly in the case of Wakeman, although it was some years ago that he and Etheridge played together in Soft Machine. Appropriately, they played two of that group’s numbers, ‘Gesolreut’ (from Sixth) and ‘Kings and Queens’ (from Fourth). A walk down Memory Lane for many of us, especially hearing Wakeman play with such authority throughout the evening, showing strength and power as if in response to the direction given by the guitarist.

The appreciative audience showed particular enthusiasm for Etheridge’s solo version of Charles Mingus’ dedication to Lester Young, ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’, and Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘Msunduza’ which featured Etheridge duetting with Balen on tabla. A roaring version of Mingus’ ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’ had the place moving, with Baker’s trombone having the fast articulation of a Willie Dennis or Jimmy Knepper - a clear tone, with full use of slurs and smears and an attractive straight-ahead approach.

The finale saw Hayden joining the others in the Afro-Cuban All Stars’ classic ‘Amor Verdadero’, trading licks with Etheridge and giving everyone a chance to solo, bringing to mind Ry Cooder’s description of pianist Ruben Gonzalez, ‘a Cuban cross between Thelonious Monk and Felix the Cat.’ The mix of music throughout the evening was just as varied and just as joyful.

– Matthew Wright

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