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.

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.


Tracks played 25 January 2019

Small hospital radio station big on jazz every Friday 4 ’til 6pm (GMT)

Sounds Like Jazz is a Gosport Hospital Radio production and these are the tracks played on the above date:

  • That Da Da Strain by Jim Beaty from the album The West Coast Years, 1993
  • Some Other Spring from the album of the same name by Karin Krog & Dexter Gordon, 1970
  • Hot Mallets by The Lionel Hampton Orchestra featuring Dizzy Gillespie from the album Dizzy Gillespie The Complete RCA Victor Recordings, 1995
  • Pan Croque by the Polish Jazz Quartet from the album Polish Jazz Quartet, 2017
  • The Clan by Curtis Fuller & The Jazz Clan from the album Soul Jazz, 1961
  • Do Your Duty by Humphrey Lyttelton & Elkie Brooks from the album Trouble in Mind, 2005
  • The Adventure of Little Peepsie by Dave O’Higgins from the album It’s Always 9.30 in Zog, 2017
  • City Home by Mose Allison from the album I’ve Been Doin’ Some Thinkin’, 1968
  • Smoke Screen by Eddie Henderson from the album Be Cool, 2018

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.

Black Saint Mingus

It is not unusual for my wife to pass comment on the music I listen to as she passes my study. “oh I like that, who is it?” means that she really is liking what she hears. “That’s interesting”, means that she might like some aspect of what she is hearing but overall is not really sure. “They seem to be taking an awful long time in tuning up!” means that she really does not like what she is hearing and wishes I had my headphones on. So what, I wonder, would she make of Black Saint and the Lady Sinner released in 1963 on the Impulse label?

The first thing to say about this album is that it is not one that you have on in the background, it need to be listened to rather than just heard.
Black Saint and the Lady Sinner is a jazz suite comprising of six parts played by an eleven piece band. Each part is written for a a sometimes unspecified number of dancers and has a subtitle: for example, Track A – Solo Dancer [Stop! Look! And Listen, Sinner Jim Whitney!]. Mode D – Trio And Group Dancers [Stop! Look!And Sing Songs Of Revolutions!].

Mingus wrote the suite as a dance piece and Impulse altered its label slogan to read “Ethnic Folk-Dance Music”. For me, the sense of this being written for dance came on Track B – Duet or Solo Dancers. The piece starts with the piano of Jaki Byard and then just grows and grows and would not be out of place in a contemporary dance setting of today.

This album has received much critical acclaim and rightly so.

Richard Cook and Brian Morton, writers of The Penguin Guide to Jazz, awarded the album a “Crown” token, the publication’s highest accolade, in addition to the highest four-star rating.

Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008) [1992]. The Penguin Guide to Jazz (8th ed.

Steve Huey of AllMusic awards The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady five stars out of five and describes the album as “one of the greatest achievements in orchestration by any composer in jazz history.”

Huey, Steve. “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady – Charles Mingus”. AllMusic.

In other reviews of this album much is made of the playing of alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano’s solos and as good as they are this really is an ensemble work with each player contributing to the overall sound of the album – I particularly like the use of guitarist Jay Berliner and the flutes of Dick Hafer and Jerome Richardson.

In the liner notes on the 2011 release of Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (it is released along with Mingus x5 as a two on one CD) Charles Mingus writes, “I feel no need to explain any further the music herewith other than to say throw all other records of mine away except maybe one other.” Not something I would be prepared to do but I do acknowledge that Black Saint And The Sinner Lady is an album of classic jazz dance music that will hold its value for as long as there are those prepared to put in the effort to sit and listen to this majestic performance – just be prepared to put on your headphones, your partner may not feel the same.