Tuesday, 16th November, saw me take a trip across to Southampton Jazz Club to see the Alison Rayner Quintet play the last leg of their Short Stories tour. I had the privilege of seeing this group perform before when I attended the Marsden Jazz Festival back in October 2019, when the band had just started the Short Stories tour, so I guess the two sets this evening should be well rehearsed.
The band opened with ‘Half A World Away’ from their first album, August, which was probably a fitting track to begin with considering that has happened over the last two years. It was a good number to introduce the music of the Alison Rayner Quintet to the audience of the club, some of whom were not familiar with the band.
The set moved on to a beautifully written Diane McLoughlin number ‘New Day’. The tune was lyrical and evocative of the dawning of a new day with stunning sax lines echoed by Deidre Cartwrights guitar and wonderful bass lines played under the piano solo from Steve Lodder. ‘There is a Crack in Everything’ had, at times, a nervous energy about it emolliated by smoother moments that evoked a mind not completely at rest: the piano solo from Steve Lodder encapsulated both states superbly. In contrast ‘Buster Breaks a Beat’ was vibrant and spirited. Alison Rayner was on electric bass and there was a rock edged guitar sound from Deirdre Cartwright. The call and response section between sax and drums that then filled out to a sax/drum duet was very enjoyable.
‘A Braw Boy’ was the number that I simply got lost in. The tune, written by Alison Rayner, was inspired by photographs taken in Scotland by her nephew. The music soared and swayed with stunning moments of light and shade as the palette of sound reflected the beauty of the country captured by the lens of a camera. In stark contrast the final tune of the first set took the audience across to Australia with the bright and fun ‘Croajingolong Bushwalk’. The opening section with drums and guitar made it absolutely clear where this tune was set and it was an uplifting finish to a first set that had come to end all too soon.
The second set opened with ‘Musicophilia’ from the A Magic Life album (2016), which was inspired by the book of the same title written by Oliver Sachs. The tune opens with a wonderful bass solo from Alison followed by Diane McLoughlin picking up the melody, with Steve Lodder supporting at the piano, before handing it on to Deirdre Cartwright on guitar: a great start to the second set. ‘Seeing Around Corners’ featured a good fusion edged guitar solo with the piano punching through in the upper register which was then softened out by the more lyrical notes of the soprano sax played by Diane before the piano and bass took the number to its conclusion.
‘Trunk Call’ is a fantastic multi-layered tune inspired by an event witnessed by Alison in India. Buster Birch opened the piece and introduced the tune that, in turn , was picked up by the bass, sax, and piano. The drum patterns played by Buster throughout were a joy as was the guitar evocation of a sense of India with the bowed bass providing the drone sound synonymous with Indian music. ‘Life Lived Wide’ is a Deirdre Cartwright tune, written for her friend Debbie Dickenson, full of energy and life. The blend of guitar and bass was excellent as was the wash of cymbals that featured from the mallets of Buster Birch. There was a real sense of dynamism in the playing of this number and Deirdre Cartwright was smiling broadly throughout: a fitting tribute to fond memories.
‘Queer Bird’ was a swinging, straight-ahead jazz number that gave Deidre Cartwright an opportunity to shine with her playing and shine she did. I really enjoyed this number and consider it as good as anything I have heard from the golden age of jazz: an absolute delight. ‘A Magic Life’ was called as the final tune of the second set and a fitting end it should have been. The central melodic line was beautiful in its simplicity. The piano playing was wonderful with its occasional nods to the sound of Scotland. The audience managed to squeeze another number from the band before letting them go and that tune was the, as yet, unrecorded ‘A Portrait of Jaco’. What a joyous, upbeat funk sound this was to end the evening on.
The Alison Rayner Quintet were engaging from the off, their playing was tight, emotive, fun, and immensely pleasurable to hear again. The back stories, spoken liner notes, that gave us an insight to where the songs came from were good to hear but hearing the strength of that writing was even more enjoyable.