Cockpit Theatre, London
Jazz On 3 has broadcast for the last 18 years on its Monday night 11pm slot on BBC Radio 3 and has been a leading influence in the development of the UK scene over that period. The last broadcast from over 900 broadcasts will go out at the end of March, but the show was actually recorded last night at the Cockpit Theatre in the Marylebone area of London, and I was privileged to be one of the guests.
As ever, it was introduced in great style and professionalism by Jez Nelson, and the Jazz On 3 team at the independent broadcaster Somethin’ Else had put together a strong programme to mark the event. The show started with Empirical, moved on to Django Bates playing a solo set, and concluded with an improvised set with Evan Parker, Laura Jurd, Orphy Robinson and Alex Hawkins.
Empirical, the quartet with Nathaniel Facey on alto sax, Lewis Wright on vibes, Tom Farmer on double bass and Shane Forbes on drums had just finished a week’s pop-up residency in a vacant shop at Old Street Tube Station playing three sets a day for the six days, and I have to admit that they all looked a bit exhausted as they waited to go on stage, but in true jazz style that exhaustion disappeared as soon as they started to play.
Their set featured material from their new album and tunes written by the different members of the quartet. I have always been impressed by Empirical; they look good on stage, and make clear informative announcements about the music. They have been working together as this particular quartet for a number of years and this is really apparent; they all write for the group, share the announcing and have a strong group identity.
But perhaps the most impressive thing is that the new material integrates the themes and the improvisation so that each solo seems to come naturally out of the writing. There are no long sequences of just soloing, and the textures provided by the combination of Facey’s strong tone on the alto sax and the shimmering sounds of Wright’s vibes plus the cross rhythms of Forbes’ drums and the impulse provided by Farmer on the bass give the group a really strong sound and musical identity. Their second tune entitled Stay The Course seems to capture something of this identity, and this was remarked upon by Jez in interviewing the group.
Django Bates followed with a solo piano set plus a short interlude on the tenor horn. Django had written a new piece, The Piano And A Man, a witty dialogue between the piano and a rather nervous musician playing the particular piano for the first time; he then moved on to a revised version of Is There Anyone Up There?, which seemed focussed on the housing situation in London. He followed with two pieces for piano with the short interjection on the tenor horn, all of which revealed Django’s amazing ability to create an absorbing, witty and above all powerful solo statement.
The final set featured four players each representing a different musical generation combining in an improvised set in many different and interesting ways that only seem to happen in a freely improvised setting. I hadn’t heard trumpeter Laura Jurd in a totally free situation before, but she fitted extremely well with Evan Parker on tenor sax with the two players swopping short bluesy phrases. Orphy Robinson was on marimba and added both a strong rhythmic pulse and a very enjoyable extra texture not always found in improvised music, and Alex Hawkins provided on the piano varied punctuations to the interactions of the other musicians. I found this a fascinating set that really swung like the clappers.
I had to dash for the train back to Birmingham so missed Jez’s final announcement, but we do know that the recording of this concert will go out as the final Jazz On 3 broadcast on Monday 28 March from 11pm to 12.30am on BBC Radio 3, but that the Monday night slot is not lost to jazz. A team led by broadcaster and journalist Alyn Shipton will be taking over the slot with presenters Soweto Kinch and Emma Smith fronting the show; their first programme will go out on 4 April. The monthly sessions at the Cockpit Theatre hosted by Jez will continue; they take place on the final Monday of the month.
- Where Jez Nelson and Somethin’ Else are heading next is here.
Categories: Live review