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

Art Themen Trio – 5 July 2019

“Art

The Art Themen Trio gave us a brilliant gig. Art played mostly tenor sax and some soprano. Pete Whittaker played organ, so that is chordal plus bass. George Double excelled as always on drums.

There are always high expectations when a legend like Art, who has worked with just about everybody important, arrives. Expectations exceeded. Pete is a consummate organist. His bass lines are always lovely. George played his ass off as always, but always to the room – a sound man’s dream.

The first song set the tone. It was Dexter Gordon’s “Cheesecake”, up tempo and jolly. Pete has a breathless solo on this one. Art make a thorough exploration of the altissimo range of the tenor. George’s accompaniment was excellent and worth listening to on its own. Art’s conversations with the audience about the history and characters of the pieces were much appreciated. However Art’s jokes are sometimes worse than mine (for example of mine, see end).

It just got better from there. Lots of stunning solos, excellent arrangements, great communication. A couple of songs really caught my mind. Stan Tracey’s suite “The Cardiff Chapter” had a tune “Funky Day in Cardiff Bay”. The trio had so much fun with it. Herby Hancock’s “What If I Don’t” had Art playing both tenor and soprano, a wonderful set of 4s with Art, Pete and George, and breathtaking flows of ideas from all.

Please may they be back.

Next week the lovely Joanna Eden will bring “Sondheim and Me”. Joanna has a beautiful voice, a musician’s sensibility, and great skill on the piano. With her will be Gerry Hunt on reeds, Russell Swift on bass and George Double on drums. I am not sure if he is sleeping over.

Take care,

Dave

Statistically, 6 out of 7 dwarves are not Happy.

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)

Liane Carroll – 12 May 2019

“Liane

Liane Carroll has been a great friend to the club, but to come to us to do a benefit is extra special. And what a gig! She is truly a remarkable performer and person. She has a great warm voice, a superb sense of phrasing, and more important even than those is her love of the words. Now, couple that with her great piano playing…

In the second set, we had her husband, Roger Carey, playing bass guitar. Roger works in many genres. His jazz playing is excellent and passionate.

What to say about the gig? Just saying that Liane sang for us should tell you what a gig it was. The programme was a mix of well known and a few not so well known, with a good balance of tempo and mood. There were a few that really affected me.

W.C. Handy’s “St. Lous Blues”, in the first set had Liane playing at least 5 grooves. This was followed by two songs which she associated with her mother, Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary wrote the music and lyrics to “Here’s To Life”, and Hoagy Carmichael wrote “I Get Along Without You Very Well”. Liane sang this with an immense depth of passion without a hint of soppiness.

In “Autumn Leaves”, (music by Joseph Kosman, English lyrics by Johnny Mercer), Liane had an amazing counterpoint section with the bass line, improvisation and voice.

In the Loewe/Lerner “Almost Like Being In Hove” (pardon me, “Love” — you never know what the woman is going to say), Roger had a fine solo. His accompaniment throughout the set was top class.

Liane sang and played 23 songs. Each one deserves a comment. If you were there, you knew it. If you were watching the football, you would just be jealous.

No gig next week folks we are on our summer schedule. but on 24 May, the man who is considered by many to be he heir to Grappelli will be with us: Tim Kliphuis Violin with Nigel Clark Guitar and Ray Percy Bass. See the great man in the intimate setting of Fleece Jazz.

Take care,
Dave

Eyal Lovett Quartet + Blue Dahlia: 3 May 2019

“Eyal

Two bands for the price of one: the lovely Blue Dahlia and the superb Eyal Lovett Quartet.

Dahlia Dumont has a lovely light voice. She sings in French, and some English. The latter is her native language, she is American, based in Paris. She plays the ukulele and is excellently accompanied by Daniele Borgoto on bass guitar and Aurimas Goris on button accordion.

There was a nice mix of her own very good compositions and some French standards in a well designed short programme. Her “Ayo”, about an aunty, had some fascinating tempo variations. A non-French speaker would have no trouble in hearing the emotions and the humour from her singing. I loved her rendition of Edith Piaf’s and Marguerite Monnot’s “L’Hymne à l’amour”. She showed the power in her voice singing her tune “Reasonable.

Daniele and Aurimas are clearly very fine musicians in their own right. Here they provided the accompaniment with style, sensitivity and accuracy.

The audience loved them. They also liked the extra intermission to go to the bar while we re-rigged the stage.

Eyal’s band was A12ed badly, so the audience got to hear the sound check. I heard murmers: “this is going to be very good”. It was much better than good.. The band is Eyal Lovett on piano, Eran Har Evan on guitar, Aidan Lowe on drums and Thomas Kolarczyk on bass.

The mood in the first set could be quite dark. Take Eyal’s “Turmoil”, a war story in music. Thomas’s bass solo was hugely affecting, heavy with sorrow. Eyal spoke more of peace. War was provided by Eran’s immense guitar solo, filled with fire and shot. Aidan showed us a master class in accompaniment.

Eyal 3/4 tune “Japanese Tale” had a solo from him that will stand in the memory. His whole body plays, not just his fingers.

Special thanks to Martin Webb for supplying the drum kit, with four snares for Aidan to choose from.

The second set was much lighter. Why Eran would choose to write “Falafel” I am not sure, but I am very glad. A lovely light bass solo from Thomas. Eyal’s “Everybody Knows” gave Eran a chance to solo with tones like an organ: beautiful. But the prize in a night of prizes was Eyal’s “Attitude”, which needs a story.

Someone kept telling Eyal to do something about his attitude. So he wrote this song, and when the guy phoned asking what are you doing, he said “I’m working on my ‘Attitude'”. I remember a pub in a village in the Fens called “Walk the Dog”. All four solos were stunning, funny, filled with harmony and counterpoint.

A superb quartet. We want them back again.

The next gig is very special, and not on a Friday. On Sunday 12 May, 2pm in the Garden Room, the very special Liane Carroll is doing a benefit for us! She keeps winning jazz singer of the year, and is a superb pianist. One more thing. She is filled with fun. Do be there. We need you, you need her.

Take care,
Dave

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