Clark Tracey + four youngsters

The third Tuesday of every month is jazz night at Southampton Jazz Club and June’s event will certainly be one I shall remember for a long time: it was a superlative defying two sets of live jazz music.

The Clark Tracey Quintet

The Clark Tracey Quintet were in town and featured Alex Ridout on trumpet, Sean Payne was playing alto sax; Elliot Sansom was at the piano with James Owston on double bass and, of course, Clark Tracey was behind the drum kit. Once introductions had been made the tune “If I Were a Bell”, written by Frank Loesser for the musical Guys & Dolls, got the evening under way with each of the players taking a solo before the trumpet, sax, and piano played short bursts interspersed by drum vignettes from Clark – a terrific opening fifteen minutes of live jazz music.

The Kenny Wheeler tune “Foxy Trot”, from the new Album No Doubt, followed on and this was a very different style from the opener. Pianist Elliot Sansom played the opening bars before Sean Payne, on alto, brought a very atmospheric, ethereal quality to the tune. So what would be next?

The Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn number “The Star-Crossed Lovers” was said by Clark to be a sophisticated tune that eighteen year old Sean Payne would take the lead on.

This was, quite simply, one the most moving ballads I have heard played live. The control, pace and phrasing were beautiful to hear. If this is the future of jazz playing in this country then we are in very safe hands and I shall be very interested in seeing this guy leading his own band in a live setting.

“Seven Four Seven” was written by Clark and is a new tune to the band – the band have been together about eighteen months – and was the only time all the musicians read the music. The tune was great fun and is soon to be recorded, which will be great to hear again … and again. The first set finished with the Victor Feldman tune “Joshua”. Bassist James Owston led with a solo before Sean’s sax took off at a blistering pace and kept going to the end of the number and the first set.

The second set opened with the Alex Ridout penned “Top Dog”. Thirteen minutes of a new tune from the former BBC Young Musician Jazz award winner. I was very impressed when I first heard Alex, in this line-up, at the Swanage Jazz Festival, 2018, and hearing her again just confirms how good a player she is. She also turns out to be a very good tunesmith as well.

“Stars Fell on Alabama” gave us another chance to hear focus on Alex’s playing as she lead on this ballad written in 1934 by Frank Perkins. There were also solo’s from Elliot Sansom and James Owston.

It really was good to hear an extended bass solo from James and he is a player very much worth listening to, though I get the impression that he is very happy to be in the background and let Alex and Sean take the spotlight.

“Veracruz” was the penultimate tune of the evening that started out with a Latin vibe before becoming a mainstream tune that was a joy to hear. The evening finished with the Jimmy Deuchar tune “Suddenly Last Tuesday”. This was a great Be-bop tune to close the second set with all the players getting a final chance to show off their soloing skills and this included, for the first time all evening, drummer and band leader Clark Tracey.

This may go down as one of the best live jazz gigs I have seen at Southampton Jazz Club, I was still smiling the following morning as I remembered the night before. There are still some very good names yet to play this year at the club but it will be against this amazing quintet that their performances will be measured.

Two of a Mind Quartet

The Two of a Mind Quartet is co-lead by saxophonists Chris Biscoe and Allison Neale and I had the pleasure of hearing them live at Southampton Jazz Club on Tuesday, 16 April, 2019 – off the quartet only Chris Biscoe was an unknown quantity to me.

Chris Biscoe + Jeremy Brown + Matt Fishwick + Allison Neal = Two of a Mind

The evening was to be largely built around the band’s interpretations of the work of Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond and in particular the albums Blues in Time and Two of a Mind. The first set began with Allison Neale counting them in on “Standstill” with all players taking a solo at some point. What struck me immediately was the the wonderful musical interaction between Chris and Allison whether playing in unison, harmony or counterpoint.

The next tune was the title track from the 2016 album release Then and Now and this really did swing. There was a really nice extended solo from Allison before bass player Jeremy Brown showed us all what he was capable of. “Easy living” was next with a bowed bass opening. This is a blues number and Chris’ baritone sax really shone on this one, enhanced by the subtle playing of Allison on alto.

“Line for Lions” (a Mulligan and Getz number) was another swinger with alternating playing between the two saxophonists broken up by some fine drum work from Matt Fishwick. Matt’s drumming was brought to the fore on the closing number of the first set where he and Jeremy Brown got to play off each other to great effect.

“How Deep is the Ocean”, as arranged by Allison Neale, kicked off the second set with the Chris Biscoe penned “Rest Easy” following on – both these tracks can be found on the aforementioned album release. Next came the Hoagy Charmichael tune “Skylark”, which for me was the tune of the evening.

Chris had only been listed as playing the baritone and alto sax but for “Skylark” he used the alto clarinet. This is not a familiar instrument in this country and I really don’t understand why not – as I had not seen, or heard this instrument before I had to ask Chris what it was. The tone is beautiful, warm and rich and brought something different to this well known and well loved tune. Unfortunately the alto calrinet does not appear on the Then and Now album but can be heard on another of Chris’ albums Profiles of Mingus.

Victor Herbert’s “Indian Summer” followed with a very subtle Bossa Nova beat from Matt Fishwick. “The Way You Look Tonight” was the penultimate tune of the evening and this was where Matt was really allowed to let rip with an extended drum solo – such a lot of drumming with minimal movement. The second set, and the evening, ended with the Gerry Mulligan composition “Blight of the Fumble Bee” a great number that the band appeared to enjoy playing as much as the audience enjoyed hearing it.

This was an evening of well written music played very well by musicians who engaged with the audience and each other. The MC for the evening commented that Allison Neale, when not playing, was smiling in appreciation throughout the gig and that was infectious. The following morning the first CD in to the player was Then and Now and while no studio album can match a good live performance it was still good to hear a number of the tunes again … and again.

“Whelmed” by Freestone

Saturday, 6 April, 2019 saw Tori Freestone appear live at the Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham. I had been looking forward to this event since the calendar was released. Sadly my anticipation of a good evening’s of live jazz was not met in full.

I purchased the last album released by the trio back in 2016. I like the album and agree with the album reviews like this from Jazzwise magazine:

Freestone’s hypnotically inventive improv is a deeply personal one and ‘El Barranco’ proves she’s a tenor saxophonist worthy of more recognition”  

The performance started with the title track from the 2016 album and was played well. The second track had a Cuban influence and was OK but I felt that drummer Tim Giles was a little self-indulgent on his drum solo, which did little to add to or enhance the music being played – I have to say that I am not a huge fan of the drum solo unless played with a subtlety befitting the tune.

“Oh Shenandoah” was the next tune to get an outing and I have to say that it was well played and quite clearly Tori has a genuine respect for folk music. Next was a jazz standard and while it was introduced I was unable to hear what was said due to poor diction and lack of effective microphone sound levels.

The set finished with “Crosswires”, I believe, which was an amalgamation of the opening tune of the evening with another. The tempo was slightly quicker, which I liked, and the bass playing of Dave Mannington was very enjoyable, as it was all evening. The break was interesting in that the audience was very quiet and I could hear little talk about the first act.

The second set started off with El Mar de Nubes, the title track from the forthcoming album release before moving on to tracks from the albums In The Chop House and El Barranco. Unfortunately the pattern of playing was already well established and there was little variation in what was heard. For me there was an over-reliance on repetitive riffs that did not lead anywhere.

After the performance I spoke to others who had attended the event and the general feeling about the performance was that it was lacklustre. There were signs that something was going to break out of the constant riffing but then it just faded away. I suppose that the best thing I can say about this particular gig is that I did not, as I have done in the past, walk out. I so wanted to enjoy the evening but the feeling of “whelmed” – neither over or under – was the abiding one.

N.B I am fully aware that “whelmed” is not a word that can be found in the dictionary but I hope that you catch my intended meaning.

Not seeing …

I recently decided not to go and see a very good jazz musician paying tribute to players of the past: why not? To be honest it is all wrapped up with the question as to why small jazz clubs are finding it difficult to attract a wider audience: over familiarity.

When I attend a live gig I expect to hear standards from the jazz repertoire and when I do I enjoy them. However, there does appear to be a trend for bands to play tributes to some of the greats from the past without also throwing in a few original compositions to show that we can, and should, move on from the greats.

I recently reviewed Carlos Henriquez’s album Dizzy Con Clave, which is a live recording of a tribute to the music of Dizzy Gillespie but with new arrangements that refreshes the original and avoids the label “over familiarity” – and you should be able to tell from my review that I really enjoyed this album.

The problem for many small jazz cubs is that they rely on those audience members who turn up each and every month to hear good jazz music played live, good jazz music that they are familiar with. These stalwarts struggle with the unfamiliar – they also struggle with vocalists but that might be a different topic to write about another time – and have been heard to say that they will not be at next month’s gig because they haven’t heard anything by the band that has been booked.

I would suggest that the elusive wider audience may not attend their local jazz club because they are not going to hear anything new and while they accept, and recognize, the place of the jazz standard repertoire, they do not necessarily want to be beholden to it. On Saturday 5 January, 2019 The Times newspaper wrote a piece entitled All That Jazz in which it was stated that, “For the past couple of years London’s new jazz scene has been quietly conquering the world “. Unfortunately for those of us getting our live jazz outside of London, the new jazz scene is passing us by.

There are many very good young jazz artists producing original material that deserves to be heard live by a wider audience. I should love to see the likes of Lorraine Baker, Tom Millar, and Freddie Gavita play live at a jazz club nearer to home than London. I also know that many of those who regularly attend jazz clubs in my area would think twice about paying for a ticket to hear jazz music they did not grow up with and that’s a shame. Let’s face it, if the audience at the time had not embraced the new of Monk, Coltrane, Gillespie et al we would still be listening to Livery Stable Blues and the “new jazz [bop] scene” would have passed us by.

Christian Brewer + The Marco Marzola Trio

Southampton Jazz Club has moved venue, again, to the CoCo Bar & Lounge and saxophonist Christian Brewer + The Marco Marzola Trio were the first act to play there for the club audience. I have to say that I was not familiar with the sax player or the trio, all of whom are Italian, that supported him but as they were playing a tribute programme to the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn I knew I would at least know some of the numbers to be played.

Saxophonist + three

They opened the first set with Satin Doll, a jazz standard written in 1953, with Christian Brewer on alto sax. The rhythm section were very good, tight, swinging, and clearly a section that have played a lot of hours together. This was evidenced further on the second tune, Johnny Come Lately, where the trio were so together it was like hearing one musician play three instruments.

The second tune was also when we got to hear the first drum solo of the evening before moving on to a sparing match between drummer and saxophonist, both which were a joy to hear. The first set moved on through Daydream, soulful; A Flower is a Lovesome Thing with its beautiful opening sax solo, before coming to an end with Take the A Train, one of Strayhorn’s most well known tunes that did not suffer from over familiarity.

The second set opened with U.M.M.G where drummer Lele Barbieri played everything on his kit as well as the body of Marco Marzola’s double bass and looked as if he were thoroughly enjoying doing so as well. After Isfahan the group moved on to Raincheck. Pianist Nico Menci opened the proceedings gently before the tempo increased and we were treated to another drum solo. I am not sure why but the band really came to life on this number, not that they were slumbering before, and the audience reacted very positively to this.

Little African Flower followed with a beautiful drum solo opening. The bass of Marco Marzola and Christian Brewer’s soprano sax then joined in with Nico Menci filling out the sound on piano. This was the stand out number of the evening for me: the playing was simply stunning with each musician playing their own part in bringing this tune to life.

The second set concluded with In a Sentimental Mood followed by Things Ain’t What They Used to Be. Both well known tunes that seemed fitting for this band’s tribute to the music of Duke Ellington and Bill Strayhorn. I then got the opportunity to ask Christian Brewer if this band had recorded: “not yet” was the answer.

On the evidence of this evening’s showing the band, in my opinion, ought to record their tribute project. I must also mention that Lele Barbieri gave a masterclass in drum solo. I am not usually a big fan of the drum solo but this guy was captivating and a joy to hear and see play.


BATL @ Soton Jazz

At last I get to write a review on some live music, which I got to hear at Southampton Jazz Club Tuesday, 15 January, 2019. The act in question was the Brandon Allen/Tim Lapthorn Quartet (BATL). Brandon Allen I have seen before when he was touring his The Gene Ammons Project CD back in 2017 – if you are not familiar with the album it is worth checking out.

The first thing to say is that I thought Brandon looked much more relaxed than he did when I saw him previously. Now this could be to do with the fact that he was playing alongside Tim Lapthorn, a partnership that goes back some seventeen years.

The line-up was Brandon Allen on tenor sax, Tim Lapthorn on keyboard, Oli Hayhurst was the bass player (who was deputizing at the last minute for Tim Thornton) and Lloyd Haines was on drums.

Brandon Allen / Tim Lapthorn Quartet (BATL)

The first set kicked off with a Brandon Allen composition Gone But Not Forgotten. This largely featured the rhythm section with injections of sax playing from Brandon. The tune was different from what I had heard before from this player and in many ways did not set the tone for what was to follow in that it had a much more contemporary feel to it. A special mention must go to Oli Hayhurst for some excellent bass playing during this number.

Lazy Days followed, which for me was a reminder of some of the best melodic jazz of the 1950s. The next tune, Running Away With Me, is one inspired by the music and playing of Stan Getz and Kenny Barron and featured the first drum solo of the evening – always a crowd pleaser and Lloyd Haines certainly pleased this crowd.

The Tim Lapthorn’s composition Cuckoo is a beautiful ballad that showed off Tim’s playing to the full. He then handed over to Oli for a wonderful bass solo. All of this was underpinned by the subtle brushwork of Lloyd Haines on drums. Brandon’s sax playing throughout this tune was mellow and really did emphasize the appeal of the piece. Apparently this quartet have not recorded but if/when they do Cuckoo should feature on the album.

The first set finished with a Chick Corea tune before the band took a short break. The second set started with another Tim Lapthorn number, this time Turn to Life which, in terms of tempo, took up where the first set ended. This was followed by Brandon Allen’s Theodore, written for his three month old son of the same name. This was a bright, mid tempo number with a great melody – Theodore should be pleased with this one.

The second set continued with A Little Love Song, which Brandon dedicated to the Jazz Fusion outfit Weather Report. There were definitely reflections of that band in this tune and a number of the audience clearly enjoyed hearing them. Home was written by Brandon following a recent trip home to Australia. It was a thoughtful piece that could be said to be the lull before the storm of F… the Right.

That last mentioned tune should have finished the set but there was a call for Skylark from a member of the audience in celebration of her soon to be 82nd birthday. The lady in question was clearly known to Brandon and, therefore, he and the band duly obliged the request with a wonderful rendition of this popular Hoagy Carmichael tune.

I said at the beginning of this review that I thought Brandon Allen appeared more relaxed than when I had seen him previously. Brandon spent quite a bit of the time sat out to the side of the stage, alongside the audience, and played from there. I felt that this gave the whole performance a very intimate feel, a performance that only comes from a musician totally at ease with his fellow players, his music, and his horn.