Friday, 23 October, 2020 saw me attend my first live gig since March of the same year. The Lighthouse, Poole hosted the Art Themen/Laura Jurd Quintet for an evening of straight-ahead jazz in front of an audience of approximately one hundred, mask wearing enthusiasts.
Art Themen was, of course, on sax; Laura Jurd played trumpet; Dave Newton was at the piano; Arnie Somogyi was upright behind the bass; and Clark Tracey was seated behind his green Cambridge made drumkit. It was only the two leads that I have not heard live before and this, in part, was the main reason for me attending this gig.
The set was standard in terms of the structure of the playlist. The first number, Just Friends, allowed each of the players to introduce themselves through a solo and remind the audience of what we had been missing in terms of live performance. Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile followed and was a much more interesting tune than the first with the rhythm section playing short bursts of melody between themselves across the stage.
The first set ballad, A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square, with Dave Newton setting the tempo, was simply delightful to hear. There was a breathy quality to Art Themen’s playing that gave the tune added poignancy. This is a long-established standard in the jazz repertoire and when it is played this well you can understand why.
Stan Tracey wrote the tune A Funky Day in Tiger Bay and what a wonderfully upbeat fun number it is too; it is also a great way to end the first set and send the audience in to the break on a high.
The second set started in much the same vein as the first, a good tempo tune with each of the band getting a solo spot. This was followed by Up Jumped Spring, written by Freddie Hubbard, a particularly good tune but for me was the least enjoyable of the evening. At times it felt that Art Themen was not fully engaged with the number: there were moments when Laura was playing and Art was “doodling” off mic before stepping up and playing the melody – the “doodling detracted from what Laura was playing and I found that distracting.
Art took a break and Laura Jurd got to play with the rhythm section on Billy Strayhorn’s Absence. This was one of the highlights of the evening. Laura’s tone is clear and strong, and the backing was tight throughout. I have no idea how much rehearsal time, if any, this band had before the gig, but the number sounded like you would anticipate it sounding if it had been well-honed over an extended period of touring.
The Bossa Nova driven Angelica was the penultimate tune of the evening with the rawness of the sax against the clarity of the trumpet making for a very enjoyable listen. Unfortunately, the drum solo lost the Latin vibe and, for me, did not add anything to the overall feel of the tune. The final number of the evening went to Charlie Parker’s The Blues. Again, a good tune but the musical transition from sax to trumpet was not as smooth as that of trumpet to piano and it jarred with me enough to make mention of it.
So, was it worth driving down to The Lighthouse, Poole to hear this band? Yes. The evening was presented as the Art Themen/Laura Jurd Quintet I believe it would have been more accurate to describe it as The Dave Newton Trio and guests. The rhythm section was terrific throughout the two sets – although I would not have missed the drum solo’s if they hadn’t been played (don’t get me wrong, I really like Clark Tracey’s playing, I am just not a fan of the drum solo); Arnie Somogyi’s bass was solid throughout and his solo spots wonderful to listen to; both Laura Jurd’s and Dave Newton’s playing was a joy to witness and I should like to hear more. Art Themen is clearly a good player but on this particular evening something was missing.