“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.

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.