Seven is a good number

The Matt Carter Septet were the visiting band to Southampton Jazz Club this month, 16 July, 2019, and I was there to hear them. The seven young jazz players lined up like this:

Matt Carter, Tom Smith, Jonny Ford, Alex Ridout, Harry Maund, Seth Tackleberry & Luke Tomlinson

This was the band’s first gig with this particular line-up but you would never have known it if Matt carter had not said so. The band are all friends from the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and their focus is on new arrangements of tunes from the American songbook.

The evening began with a George and Ira Gershwin number, But Not for Me from the musical Girl Crazy. This was a real swinging number with the horn section taking the lead before the rhythm section took over led by Matt Carter on piano. The band then came together to finish the tune. This was a great opening tune and set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Neal Hefti’s Girl Talk is a beautiful ballad and the bands next number. Alex Ridout played some wonderful muted trumpet and Harry Maund’s trombone added a lovely depth of tone to the tune.

The standout on Girl Talk was the languorous playing of tenor saxophonist Tom Smith that matched the sultry evening weather of Southampton. Ballads leave nowhere for a band to hide their playing and on this number there was nothing to hide.

Although the band’s focus is on the American songbook that is as much about style as it is about tunes. The next three numbers were written by Harry Green (the band’s regular tenor sax player) – Waiting for the Train – and Matt Carter The Place I Call Home and When Will You Call Again. The first featured a strong solo from trombonist Harry Maund and was a another very good swinging number.

The Place I Call Home began with slow piano playing from Matt Carter before a short bass and drum break from Seth Tackleberry and Like Tomlinson. As the tempo picked up the horns joined in and the number took on a carnival feel, which was infectious and very enjoyable.

Harry Maund featured again on When Will You Call Again before the final number of the first set, another George and Ira tune, They Can’t Take That Away From Me with Alex Ridout taking front and centre on trumpet. The first set opened with one swinging tune and finished with another; this was a very good first set, bring on the second.

Like it or Not, written by Matt Carter, opened the second set. This featured Tom Smith and Alex Ridout and was played with such vitality that I got swept along with it and just wanted more but the band chose to slow things down with Cole Porter’s Everytime We Say Goodbye. This tune highlighted Matt Carter’s playing style; he allowed space for the notes to breathe – very un-Tatum – and I thought the musicianship on this number was simply stunning.

Another Gershwin number, Our Love is Here to Stay, with Jonny Ford given the chance to shine – and he did – was the next swinging tune to keep us entertained before we heard a Harry Allen composition, I Can See for Ever, arranged by Harry Green. The arrangements by both Harry Green and Matt Carter are very good and give nice variations on familiar tunes.

If I had to choose a standout number from two very good sets it would be Matt Carter’s The Beacon. This was the penultimate tune of the evening that began with a piano solo. Then the bass and drums joined in. The sound was then augmented by the introduction of the horns in various combinations before they dropped out leaving just the rhythm section. The horn section then re-established itself in the line-up for a full, fat sound finish to a terrifically written and played tune that deserves to be heard again.

The evening finished with a Harry Green arrangement of the Hank Mobley’s This I Dig of You. It was a rousing end (and an extended drum solo from Luke Tomlinson made sure it was rousing) to a great night of live jazz in the heart of Southampton.

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