Nick Smart Trio, Cafe Posk Saturday 17 Nov - London Jazz Festival

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Trumpeter Nick Smart unveiled his latest project, a contemporary homage to Louis Armstrong, at the Posk jazz bar in West London’s Polish cultural centre as part of the London Jazz Festival. Featuring Paul Clarvis on drums and Hans Koller on Fender Rhodes the trio performed interesting yet very candid interpretations of Armstrong’s compositions and other tunes associated with the legend. The group opened with a buoyant rendition of the Hot 5’s classic ‘Muskat Ramble’ before plunging into Duke Ellington’s slow blues ‘Azalea’. Nick Smart Trio, Cafe Posk Saturday 17 Nov - London Jazz Festival
Lester Bowie’s ‘For Louis’ featured a rousing trumpet and drums duet that built to a heightened frenzy before resolving with Koller’s dramatic entrance on Rhodes. ‘My Man’s Gone Now’, from Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’, was given perhaps the most adventurous interpretation, with the leader spewing long wailing lines over an unsettling Latin feel brewed by Clarvis. The seasoned drummer constantly fed his band mates with energetic punctuations and shrewd use of space, his interplay with Koller a real highlight, particularly in moments where the leader happily sat out, nodding and smiling in appreciation as his companions jostled.

Smart’s playing too was strong and lyrical, his soloing on ballads and slower blues numbers a real feature. In his own composition ‘Russian Lullaby’, an aching ballad remembering the Russian-Jewish immigrant family who cared for Armstrong as a boy, the trumpeter blew with an unreserved intimacy openly revealing the importance of Armstrong on his own musical vision. Performed with a natural affinity and a veritable collective energy, the trio’s adaptations were fresh and innovative yet, thankfully, never strayed too far from the joyous simplicity of Armstrong’s music.

Michael Caratti