Gig review: Tony Kofi’s Standard Time Trio

Tony Kofi at the Red Lion. © Garry Corbett

Tony Kofi at the Red Lion. © Garry Corbett

Red Lion, Warstone Lane, Birmingham UK

Saxophonist Tony Kofi, who might be more familiar behind an alto saxophone, held his vintage tenor aloft and explained that he had been given it when in New York for a recording session with his friend, the bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma – a session which also included Ornette Coleman.

At the halfway break, he mentioned that he was flying out to South Africa next week to be in Abdullah Ibrahim’s band. And, of course, he has filled the alto chair in the World Saxophone Quartet.

It is hearing players of this stature upstairs in a pub, up close and without any PA in the way that makes the kind of sessions Birmingham Jazz is running so very special. They are less formal situations where the finest jazz musicians can stretch out, have some fun, maybe even take more risks than they might in a more formal setting.

There was all of that last night. The Standard Time Trio – Kofi, Larry Bartley on double bass and Rod Youngs on drums – came about by accident. Kofi explained that they were gigging as the Basil Hodge Quartet, Basil had to leave the stand to move his car, and as the three carried on Kofi “heard something special”.

There is certainly a special rapport here. The tunes might be all standards, from Joe Henderson’s Isotope to Charles Mingus’s Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love, with a couple of  Jimmy Rowles gems, some Monk and Parker and Eddie Harris along the way, but the method is loose and spontaneous, the tunes morph from one to another, and they usually feature unhurried intros and codas. “We don’t rehearse,” Kofi explained, and the feel between the three musicians is so attuned you can see why they don’t need to.

The performance was all the more fresh as a result. Bartley favoured the bottom end of his range and a few oscillating pedal tone sections, luxuriating in the freedom a quiet acoustic and an attentive audience provides; Youngs supplied some truly joyous solos, particularly with brushes – he delights in playing the melodies on his drums!

As for Kofi, he has it all – the blowsy braggadocio, the fluttery, delicate romanticism – I don’t know if he picked up some of that old-time ballad tone from standing next to David Murray in the WSQ, or whether he has had it all along – and a full arsenal of multi phonics, harmonics and circular breathing to call on when he feels the need.

Brilliant stuff in a warm and friendly room with a good buzz about the place. It would be nice if the downstairs pub steered clear of their jukebox while the jazz is on upstairs, but this was an only intermittent distraction when it coincided with a quiet section of the trio’s performance.

Some good gigs coming up in this room, including the Steve Tromans Trio next Friday. More at

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