Guitarist Tom Ollendorff brought his trio plus guest, saxophonist Ben Wendel, to The Ashcroft Art Centre, Fareham, Hampshire, for the first of a ten-day album tour. The album, A Song For You, has been appraised for this blog (click here for the review) and it was the title track that opened the show.
The difference in having an additional player became apparent from the off. Ben Wendel’s sax broadened out the sound giving added depth to an already good tune. The number started with the quartet, dropped back to a trio before Ben came back in with a muscular sound that changed the dynamics of ‘A Song For You’ in comparison to that heard on the album. Tom and Ben playing in unison as they brought the tune to a close was very enjoyable.
The melody of ‘Spring’ was introduced by Tom before being picked up by the rest of the band. Ben Wendel then took on the melody with chordal support from Tom before, as with the opening tune, the number was ended with Tom and Ben playing in unison.
The up-tempo Charlie Parker composition ‘Bongo Beep’ came next, and this gave an opportunity for Ben to stretch out. The support from Conor Chaplin on bass and drummer Marc Michel was terrific as was Tom Ollendorff’s guitar solo. There was also a very good solo from Conor Chaplin on bass, which was as interesting to watch as it was to hear as he moved up and down the fingerboard. The trading section between drums, guitar, and sax was first rate and one must give credit to Tom for his arrangement of this tune.
The first set ended with a new composition entitled ‘Istanbul’. The tune opened with a statement melody that the band constantly referred to after solo slots. Then came a section of play featuring Tom playing over recorded loops of himself, Marc Michel was playing a repeating drum pattern that was picked up by Ben on sax. The feel of the piece became ethereal, mesmerizing, and emotive, as if the band were playing for themselves and the audience was privileged to be able to listen in: a great tune played with wonderful musical sensibilities.
The second set opened with ‘Aare’ – named after a river that runs through Berne, Switzerland. The tune begins with an extended guitar solo from Tom before becoming a trio piece with the occasional interjection from Ben on sax. It was only in the latter stages of the number that Ben Wendel added his voice to make a full sounding quartet sound that filled the auditorium. ‘Passing Ships’, another new tune, was a relatively simple sounding tune that definitely had a seafaring feel about it. One audience described it as “something beautiful becoming something quite dirty”. It was when the tune moved from its central folk like theme that the “dirt” took over and this was provided by Ben Wendel’s sax.
‘XY’, one of my favourite album tracks, came next and it did not disappoint. The playing was excellent though, at times, I felt that Ben Wendel could have reigned in his sound to soften the tone a little. The evening was finished with a Ben Wendel tune, ‘Song Song’. Marc Michel kicked off with drum solo that I enjoyed (regular readers of this blog will know that I am not a big fan of a drum solo). This was an uplifting tune with a carnival feel to it and Ben’s melody did not get lost in overplayed improvisation – Ben Wendel has a beautiful tone to his playing that I sometimes feel gets lost in his extemporizations.
I did enjoy this evening and it was good to hear album tunes played live, particularly with the addition of Ben Wendel on saxophone. Tom Ollendorff can, without doubt, write and play a good tune: he is also blessed with excellent support from Conor Chaplin on bass (a player I should like to hear a lot more of) and Marc Michel on drums. The only negative thing I can really comment on is the lack of promotion from the venue who really need to do much better in this respect if they are to continue to bring acts of this quality to their centre.