Barton Arms, Aston, Birmingham UK
Reviewed by Laurence Jones
This Lancashire based quintet co-led by saxophonist and clarinettist Iain Dixon and guitarist Mike Walker (a quarter of The Impossible Gentlemen) performed in the architecturally stunning surroundings of the Bartons Arms on Friday. The high number of people under 30 at a jazz gig was initially suspicious, until it was later explained by Iain’s role as a tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire.
The set kicked off with a combustible version of Cantaloupe Island featuring the howling guitar of Walker. Steve Swallow’s Falling Grace demonstrated the incisive bass of Gary Culshaw and the tranquil Clockmaker (dedicated to the saxophonist’s father; the clockmaker of the title) featured a beautiful sax solo. Another Swallow composition, which started the second set, the Latin-style Ladies In Mercedes included an elegant minimal keyboard solo by Les Chisnall. Iain Dixon’s Wakey Wakey was dedicated to the insomniacs in the audience and featured a wonderfully lyrical sax solo.
The female jazz drummer is quite an elusive creature, not often seen or heard, but it makes me wonder if some of the more unnecessary drum solos I’ve heard over the years may, perhaps, be the product of male egos. Caroline Boaden fulfilled her role perfectly on Friday night. Nothing was superfluous with not a hint of an overblown solo in sight.
One of the stand-out pieces was the atmospheric tune Wallenda’s Last Stand by Mike Walker (featured in The Impossible Gentlemen project) which perfectly evoked a legendary tightrope walker’s final walk (and descent), at the age of 73, and displayed a wistful, introspective solemnity to the guitarist’s playing.
Apparently Iain and Mike used to play Stompin’ At The Savoy as kids, but this updated version of the ’30s tune veered off in all sorts of unpredictable directions with some meaningful improvisation, and was another stand-out tune. The set also included improvisations on pieces by Bill Evans and Miles as well as a take on In The Bleak Midwinter.
Coltrane’s Impressions was followed by an encore of Miles’ Blue In Green which rounded off a vibrant night with a world class band presented by Birmingham Jazz.