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.

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.


Sorry to read that …

music retail store HMV is once again in trouble but not so surprised to read that Hilco Capital, the supposed white knight, took out almost £50 million in fees during the five year period that it owned HMV (Oliver Shah and Liam Kelly, The Times, 02/01/2019). In a declining high street retail environment, no chain could survive that level of asset stripping without seriously remodelling its sales strategy: something HMV have not done right for many years.

I was also sorry to read that Portsmouth Jazz Society has closed its doors because … ‘audiences have dwindled over the past three years and trying to “drum up” new people to come along, et cetera, et cetera, has become a thankless task.’ Sadly there will be many more jazz clubs run by dedicated volunteers that will close down due to the lack of an audience.

There will also be many who were very disheartened to read that Jazz Journal, the British jazz magazine established in 1946 by Sinclair Traill, is no longer to be produced in printed format. The “magazine” will move online but there has been little information put out as to when and in what format online.

So what is to be done? What can be done? Well look around you, independent shops are starting up as specialists – something HMV did not get right, they simply could not decide what kind of store they wanted to be – vinyl sales on the up, young people coming back in to book stores looking for real books, vintage Hi-fi on trend, even the charity sector diversifying with specialist book & music shops.

The future may not be all that bright at the moment but there are glimmers of hope out there if you only take the time to look for them. Take the Amazon app off your phone and go and talk to people in shops, at clubs and societies and feed off their enthusiasm; who knows, you might just discover something real!