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.
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.
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.
Since childhood I have always had hearing difficulties but add to that age then the inevitable happens, I need to wear hearing aids.
I am now the owner of NHS provided digital hearing aids. They have taken a bit of getting used to but I can now hear and no longer have to over rely on the use of the pro-noun what did you say?
So what does this have to do with listening jazz music? What I was not aware of, prior to my fitting, is that you can have up to four settings on the type of hearing aid I now have and setting number two is music.
I was listening to the album Abutbul Music by Omer Avital ( a good album and a great live act if you ever get the chance to see them) when I remembered the music setting on my hearing aids; what a difference. The tone changed, for the better, the overall sound changed and I could hear the music in a way that really did enhance the listening experience. Now I need to try them out at a live performance to find out whether or not the effect of the music setting changes my perception of the music I am hearing. I will let you know.