Ben Crosland’s “Ray Davies Songbook Vol 2” – 16 August 2019

“BenBen Crosland‘s “Ray Davies Songbook Vol. 2”. Ben was playing a fretless bass guitar, Josephine Davies played tenor and soprano sax, Chris Allard was the guitarist, Jim Watson doubled on piano and keys, and Dylan Howe was our drummer.

Here are some general things to say about the gig. Ray Davies (in one case with his brother) wrote music which is very amenable to jazz treatment. Ben’s arrangements were superb, and not trivial. The general level of musicianship was very very high, with great solos from everyone. The audience loved the gig.

I have to go behind the scenes to explain about some of the magic. Josephine was a late dep. She had the charts in advance. She, because of a previous commitment, arrived at 7:30, had a half-hour chat with Ben, and walked onto the stage with the band and began to play the tenor on Ray Davies’ “Victoria”. Perfectly. Now Gerry and I knew that she was cold reading, as did the musicians (including one in the audience who knew the situation). From my point of view, what she did was pure magic. Some of the musicians told me it was cold reading beyond what they had heard before.

Just to make it more interesting, Ben had written many duets for sax and guitar, some up-tempo, some balladic, some unison, some in harmony. Josephine didn’t just get the notes right. She got the phrasing right. Oh, by the way, I loved her solos (her soprano solo on “Dandy” was a good example).
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Chris, Ben and Dylan played beautifully throughout, each with some standout solos. But there is one other bit of magic I want to tell you about.

Ray and his brother Dave wrote “Celluloid Heros”. Ben’s charts indicated an improvised piano intro, and after the head, a piano solo. Jim extended the intro and had us gasping: how do those ideas and changes of texture happen? He carried the ideas into the solo where he was chord constrained and had us gasping again. I think musically this was the highlight of the evening.

No gig next week, but on 30 August, Dave Lewis’s 1UP Band returns, with Dave Lewis tenor sax, Lizzie Dean vocals, Al Cherry guitar, Robin Aspland piano, Neville Malcolm bass, Rod Youngs drums. Dave’s arrangements and the band’s sound are steeped in the blues: Dave’s St. Louis roots come through. We would be pleased if you would join us.

Take care
Dave

John Etheridge’s “Blue Spirits” – 9 August 2019

“John

Early Saturday morning after John Etheridge‘s wonderful gig, we were off to visit darling daughter, somewhat slowed down coming and going by a power failure. Ironically, in the middle of all of the storm havoc, the fault was internal to the house. Anyway, thus the late report.

People love John. Quite a few travelled long distances to hear him. It is easy to understand. His techniques in every style of playing, the skill with looping, the flow of ideas, the invention of arrangements on the fly are part of the story. But people really like his rapport with the audience. He tells us what we need to know about the songs, and much more, often very funny. This is also improvisation.

He also uses musicians who have similar skills and a similar blues spirit embedded in their hearts and hands. Pete Whittaker is bassist, obbligato and soloist master on the organ. Drummer George Double is a superb accompanist, and his solos and 4s are filled with interest. The three are one unit, moving and bending their contribution with the ideas of their colleagues.

All the songs were great to hear and hear about. My notes show two that stood out.

John’s “The Venerable Bede” was on the dark side of blue. John and Pete both had fine solos on this one. George’s accompaniment was special. Bob Dorough’s and Ben Tucker’s “Comin’ Home Baby” was our encore: fast, loud, stunning from all three.

Enough. Part notes, part memory of a wonderful gig.

Next week, Dave Lewis returns, this time with his 1UP Band. Dave Lewis Tenor Sax, Lizzie Dean Vocals, Al Cherry Guitar, Robin Aspland Piano, Neville Malcolm Bass, Rod Youngs Drums.
“Kinda jazzy, kinda bluesy, kinda souly, lots of influences, great singing, great playing …” – Paul Long, BBC producer.

Take care,
Dave

Hexagon – 26 June 2019

“Hexagon

After the gig, I heard from the retiring audience: “Best gig this year by far”; “One of the best gigs I have ever been to”. Which makes it very difficult for me to find standout details in a standout gig.

The front line was Graeme Flowers on trumpet and flugel, Greg Heath on tenor and soprano saxes and Jason Yarde on alto and baritone saxes. The back line was John Donaldson on piano, Simon Thorpe on bass and Tristan Banks on drums. The music celebrated McCoy Tyner and Bheki Mseleku. Most of the arrangements were by John Donaldson. He gave us an immense range of instrumental combinations and solo patterns as well as beautiful heads. All six of them had fun, played beautifully and with soul and a strong blues base.

Take Bheki’s “Joy”. Graeme was on trumpet, Greg on soprano and Jason on alto. John had arranged one or two chorus interchanges between pairs of musicians. Wonderful variations and sharing of ideas.

Jason wrote a song for McCoy, and the lesser-known (pity, that) Andy Hill. The two have very different compositional and playing styles. He introduced the song, explaining the title and the pun: “Hill Walking on the Tyner Side”. The music worked beautifully! Not so sure about the pun…

I am going to stop now, or I would have to write 20 pages more, I think. It was a really extraordinary gig, everybody at the very top of a very high quality game.

We were lucky to have quite a few young people in the audience, at least two of whom were musicians. The two very young drummers kept their eyes on Tristan throughout the show, and Tristan kindly chatted with them for quite some time after the gig.

No gig next week, but on August 9, John Etheridge is back with “Blue Spirit”. John on a whole bunch of guitars, Pete Whittaker on organ and George Double on drums. It will be a stunning gig, don’t miss it.

Take care,
Dave

Joanna Eden’s “Sondheim and Me” – 12 July 2019

“Joanna
Gigs with surprises are often the best. This one was packed with them. There was the odd mutter before the gig that “it won’t be jazz” and some of it wasn’t but all of the numbers gripped the audience and made them smile.

The players were Joanna Eden on vocals and keyboard, Gerry Hunt on soprano and tenor sax, flute, clarinet, guitar and ukelele (really), Russell Swift on bass and George Double on drums. Another delightful surprise was Lee MacDonald, a superb musical comedy singer who arrived to sing the fifth number of the first set.

The music was mostly Sondheim, mostly jazz interpreted and all had very fine arrangements. Joanna gave us the background to each song and her relation to it.

So we begin. Michael announces the band, who are on stage. A hiatus. Joanna runs onto the stage, late for the audition and full of apologies. She is permitted to sing, and sings from the front mic “Broadway Baby” from Sondheim’s “Broadway Baby” accompanied initially by solo ukelele. The audience is caught. Half way through, she says “I can play piano too”, and finishes the song at the keyboard with the rest of the band. This woman will never have to play the maid.

A massive thank you to the rest of the band. I wanted to concentrate on the singing, but Gerry, Russell and George played beautifully, and each had excellent solos.

Surprise number 3. Lee arrives, and sings “Not Getting Married” from Company. The song is the story of Amy, with stage fright about marrying Paul, with help by the wedding planner. Lee MacDonald sings all three parts. Joanna and Lee do a stunning duet (not the only one) in “Ladies Who Lunch” with Gerry’s soprano sax making appropriate comments.

Joanna also gave us three of her own songs. “Soul Cocaine” was a birthday present. IKEA was a brilliant song about DIY. Lee sang “L’Oreal Man”, a waltz about an old lady and a young man.

I am a Sondheim fan, and I found the evening totally enchanting. I spoke with some members of the audience who were not previously interested in musical theatre. They are going to buy a bunch of Sondheim (and Joanna).

No gig next week, but on July 26th, we get the music of McCoy Tyner from a top drawer sextet. John Donaldson Piano, Greg Heath Tenor Sax, Jason Yarde Alto Sax, Graeme Flowers Trumpet/Flugel, Simon Thorpe Bass, Tristan Banks Drums

Take care,
Dave

Alina Bzhezhinska – 14 June 2019

“Alina

Sometimes, when fate smacks you around the head, the result is truly brilliant. Harpist Alina Bzhezhinska and drummer Joel Prime arrived and set up, and we waited for our friends Tony Kofi and Larry Bartley. And then the phone call. Failing car, masses of traffic, 50 miles away. So what to do?

What we got was a duo. harp and drums. The last time we had such a duo was The Stravinsky Duo, Will Butterworth (piano) and Dylan Howe (drums), and it was wonderful. But that was their superb take on two Stravinsky pieces, planned to the bar.

Alina and Joel put their heads together and structured an amazing two full sets of wonderful music, wonderfully played, all without reading (save one tune). We got the musicianship one expects from two world-class players, of course. We also got a varied and fascinating programme, with music from Alina, Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane and others. So Alice’s beautiful abstractions to bebop and blues were in the mix. Many of the tunes were on Alina’s CD, with Tony’s saxes and Larry’s bass, do buy it, it is a cracker.

Talking about solos would be a little silly in the context. Only a little, because the whole evening was an improvisation in a way. Joel had beautiful intros and solos. The brush solo on Alina’s “Following A Lovely Sky Boat” is in my memory. Alina’s improvisation was a delight throughout.

Speaking of improv, we had one free jazz tune. (Tune? yes, in the development). Joel laid down a riff, Alina tuned in, and they built a great piece. It gave both of them the opportunity to display the range of timbre and dynamics of their instruments. We are used to drummers doing this, but it was jaw-dropping to hear what the harp could do with timbre. Alina played it like a guitar close to the soundboard, built slides up and down a string, used percussion …

She also spoke to us simply but with passion about the music, its background, and about the instrument and what it could do.

Best wishes to Tony and Larry, and we hope to see all four again soon.

No jazz until July 5, which will be the Art Themen Trio. Art Themen sax, Pete Whittaker organ, George Double drums. It will be special. Do come.

Take care,
Dave

Tim Kliphuis Trio – 24 May 2019

“Tim

Canadians like me have a difficulty with British understatement. To say that the Tim Kliphius Trio was a bit special, even in the context of the musicianship the club gets, is the best I can do. The music was varied and fascinating, the musicianship exceptional. If they have fun, we have fun. And they did.

Tim Kliphuis played a soon to be famous Belgian violin at a special exhibition. Nigel Clark played a beautiful classical guitar by George Lowden. Roy Percy played a small double bass with a big, rich tone.

The evening started off with John Lewis’s “Django”. I first heard the Modern Jazz Quartet in my teens, and they turned me onto jazz. I was an only Bach guy before then. You could hear both MJQ and Django Reinhardt clearly in the music, particularly in Nigel’s solo.

The fourth tune was the presto movement, Concerto #4 of Bach’s six Brandenburg Concerti. It was a trio reduction from the work they did with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. It was true to Bach and to jazz, really wonderful. Of course it helps that Bach swings.

In this and the other classical pieces we heard, people said that they sounded like a full orchestra. Tim was double and even triple and quadruple stopping. Yes, it is possible if you are fast enough to do it sequentially. He was also playing harmonics in, it seemed, all of the positions of the violin as if they were not in any way exceptional or difficult, but just a high note. Whole phrases in harmonics! Nigel was adding percussion to the guitar, and Roy to the bass. Marvelous. The arrangement took us through lots of styles, including, (I think), Irish folk.

We also had Vivaldi’s “Winter” from his “Four Seasons”, all three musicians adding percussion; a Gabriel Fauré Nocturne, more Bach, “Brandenburg #3, Allegro”, Paganini’s “Caprice #24”. The latter is probably best known for the Lloyd Webber arrangement for the South Bank Show.

The trio had great fun with Stephane Grappelli’s “Piccadilly Stomp”, a fast Hot Club number. What was particularly noticeable was the quality of the accompaniment from all three, but in this number, particularly from Nigel. You could feel them listening.

If you missed this gig, it is the first of a UK tour. Find them and go.

A break for a couple of weeks will heighten the anticipation of the stunning harpist Alina Bzhezhinska, playing, among lots of other things, the music of Alice Coltrane. What a band! Alina on harp, Tony Kofi on sax, Larry Bartley on bass and drummer Joel Prime. Make sure that 14 June is in your diary.

Take care,
Dave (and editor Roberta)

Christian Brewer Quartet – 26 April 2019

“Christian

No apologies for the lack of notes the past few weeks. I was in Canada with friends and family, hail, snow, 20C above, everything but rain. We had a wonderful time. I am told that the Sara Oschlag and Ant Law gigs were excellent. I was back for the Christian Brewer Quartet and it was a delight.

Christian Brewer plays alto and soprano saxes, and he brought Leon Greening on piano, Adam King on bass and from New York, Mark Taylor on drums. The set list contained a lot of standards and a few lovely tunes by Christian. Each tune had high points and subtleties. It is a pity more people were not able to hear such beautifully played familiar music.

Mark first. He brought a minimal kit: kick, snare, crash, ride, high hat. He is a maximal talent. His accompaniment is spot on, with perfect volume. A good example of fine accompanying was on Chick Corea’s “Bud Powell”. He had amazing solos. The one that sticks in memory (sorry) was on Mike Nott’s “Dawn Bird”. He combines speed with subtlety in a unique way. His playing throughout was fascinating and a great pleasure to hear.

Adam is a young, award winning bassist, and we were rewarded by his presence at the club. He is not a solemn player: he grins at the unexpected in his colleagues work, and surprisingly, at his own. Christian’s excellent blues, “In the Spur of the Moment” gave Adam the opportunity for a stunning solo.

Leon truly inhabits the piano, becomes part of the instrument when soloing. The ideas flow at an incredible rate. Solo after solo had the audience entranced. I particularly loved his solo in Burton Lane’s “Old Devil Moon”. Beautiful intros are a specialty. We need to see him much more often.

Christian is a lyrical, toneful and tuneful saxophonist on both alto and soprano. I love his tone. Great solos, of course, in “In the Spur of the Moment” and Jim Snidero’s bossa nova “Reluctance” as examples. His own tunes were easy to hear, with lots of blowing room. “Marketa” gave everyone a chance to produce superb solos.

Next week, two bands for the price of one with an early start. The French singer Dahlia Dumont brings her Blue Dahlia project to begin the evening. And then the award winning pianist Eyal Lovett brings his love of melody to two sets sure to be stunning. See you there?

Take care,
Dave

Fletch’s Brew, 5 April 2019

“Gig

Fletch was back with a grand band of his own. Fletch’s Brew is always welcome to shake the walls. Wonderful gig.

Mark Fletcher led from the drums. The set list was invented on the fly, but displayed a pretty well balanced evening. Jim Watson was splendiferous on both piano and keyboards, sometimes both at the same time. Jim Hunt blew the roof off on tenor sax. Laurence Cottle on electric bass provided a wonderful foundation and pulse.

Jim Hunt first. He is a local boy (went to school in Stoke by Nayland). He played at the place that was the genesis of Fleece Jazz, the Peacock pub in Chelsworth. Jim is a superb tenorist. He has great control over volume and tone. In most of the tunes, he played with a tough bebop tone, an example being a monster solo in Goldings (sorry, lost the first name) “Sound Off”. In Sammy Fain’s “Secret Love” and some others, his soloing was particularly tuneful. But in Monk’s “Ask Me Now”, the tone was sweet, an old fashioned big band sound. We had a collection of brilliant solos to remember from him.

Jim Watson next. He has played for us quite a few times recently on piano, organ and keys, each time a revelation. It was piano (mostly) and keys this time. Lots of top drawer solos, inventive and varied in dynamics and mood. I listened carefully to his accompaniment, in which he found himself in the minde of the soloist. His solo in Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile stands in the memory.

Laurence Cottle is a master of his instrument, of course. The joke about bassists is that when they solo it is time to chat with your neighbour. Not with Laurence. He is so inventive. I listened to technique on his solo on “Black Nile”. He used normal single line, finger style chording in a melody string and harmonics. The thing is that they flowed by so naturally only a geek like me would take notice. He had a wowser of a solo on Avishai Cohen’s “Smashed”.

And Fletch? Well the first thing you notice is that he is coiffed and bearded. Then he slams into the first number of the night, Coltrane’s “Some of the Blues”, and yep; he is a genius. This being his own band, he had lots of soloing opportunities. The brush solo on “Secret Love” was beautiful. The extended solo on “Sound Off” was breathtaking. The thing for me, though, is his listening, Now all four of them do that. They are proper jazz musicians. Mark seems to sense what they are going to do. He is such fun to watch, and he is a good compere. Thanks for a stunning evening, Fletch.

Next week, a beautiful singer from the south coast, Sara Oschlag will be with us. She will be bringing a superb trio: Tony Kofi on saxes, Jason Henson on guitar and Simon Thorpe on bass.
Sara is a singer with a musician’s ear and a superb sense of swing.

Take care,
Dave.

Sean Kahn Quartet – 29 March 2019

“Sean

Intensity is the word that comes to mind from Friday’s glorious gig. Our players were led by Sean Khan, on alto and soprano saxes, with Sam Leake on piano and keys, Lorenzo Bassignani on electric bass and Laurie Lowe on drums. Did the audience like them? They demanded two encores.

Some players don’t let their bodies reflect the music they are playing. Sean’s body is hugely expressive, as the notes fly by or sustain. He gave as a programme of his own writing and standards, nicely balanced between slow and fast, tough and gentle.

The first number, his “Said” was a great introduction to his work. It had a strong middle eastern vibe. Sean’s solo was very powerful, with huge fast strings of notes across the entire instrument. It was very special to hear and see. It was followed by another original, “Waltz for Hermeto” which showed us his intensity on a slower piece. His use of dynamics was striking. What was particularly special was his accompaniment when the others soloed. What a debut at the club! He will be back.

Sam Leake has played for us before, so we know his work to be excellent. He played piano and keyboard. I enjoyed his work all through the gig. If there was a highlight, It was the last tune in the first set, Monk’s “Blue Monk”. Sam is also capable of speed, but on this one, his playing was very Monk like (or maybe Stan Tracey like), sparse in places. A real joy.

Lorenzo Bassignani was new to us. He is a master of his instrument of course, whether soloing, or providing the pulse and foundation for the others. I loved his solo on Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight”. As an accompanist he was superb. I noticed this most in Shorters “Yes or No”, very fast.

It was with John Law in 2016 that Laurie Lowe was last with us. On Friday, he reminded us of his talent. He had a few long solos, the best was probably in the second set, Hermeto Pascoal’s “Mixing Pot”. He played a larger kit with two toms, and got a big range of timbre from it with both sticks and brushes.

Next week, a Fleece Jazz favourite, Fletch’s Brew returns, but with some differences in the lineup. Mark Fletcher leads from the drum kit with Jim Hunt tenor sax, Jim Watson piano and keyboards and Laurence Cottle bass. Across evolving line ups the central ethos of the “Brew” remains commitment to spontaneity, whether playing original compositions or new arrangements across the jazz styles. And there is another commitment: a great deal of fun and joy. Don’t miss it.

Take care,
Dave