Words and pictures by John Watson
The Red Lion, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham UK
It’s often the case that one ambitious project in the arts world can spark valuable spin-offs. Two of the bands featured in the JQ Jazz Legends Festival on Saturday were inspired in this way: pianist and composer Kate Williams had the idea for adding a string quartet to her trio following her acclaimed orchestral celebration of the music of Bill Evans, and the quintet Jump Monk was sparked by a ‘Monkathon’ last year, in which every Thelonious Monk composition was played by various groups.
Kate invited the young musicians of the Guastalla String Quartet to join her for a recording and a tour with her regular bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Dave Ingamells. The short UK tour to celebrate the resulting CD, Four Plus Three (KW Jazz) had its opening date at the Birmingham festival, and the album will be officially launched at the 606 Club in London on 8 June.
The recording is also to be released later on vinyl – “Perhaps I’m showing my age, but a lot of young people go for vinyl now,” Kate told the audience. “So that makes me either old or very young!”
I may be first in the queue for that vinyl release, for Saturday’s performance was truly compelling. In the intimate setting of the Red Lion, the glorious richness of the strings enveloped the listener, blending superbly with the warmth of Kate’s Bill Evans-inspired piano and the subtle drive of Hayhurst and Ingamells. It was one of those rare concerts you wished would not end.
The influence of Bill Evans ran like a thread through the performance, including his compositions B minor Waltz and Walking Up, but Kate’s own creations Eleven Tonal, with its unusual harmonic twists, and Storm Before Calm, featuring stabbing staccato strings and swirling piano arpeggios, were enormously impressive. There was a beautiful cello solo from Sergio Serra on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Portrait In Black And White, and perfect pizzicato melody work from violinists John Garner and Marie Schreer plus viola player Miguel Angel Rodriguez Olivera on Walking Up, and expressive solo bass from Hayhurst on B minor Waltz. Glorious music.
The group Jump Monk offered a splendidly raw contrast. With Tony Kofi on alto sax, trombonist Jeremy Price, drummer Clark Tracey, bassist Arnie Somogyi and pianist Mark Edwards, the quintet romped joyfully through the Thelonious repertoire, opening with the upbeat We See (from Monk’s Straight No Chaser album), to the sublime Panonica (from Brilliant Corners), the spirited Bright Mississippi (based on the chords of Sweet Georgia Brown), and one of my favourites, the spikey tune Nutty (from the 1961 LP Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, and also recorded by the pianist in a bizarre combination with clarinettist Pee Wee Russell live at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1963, issued as part of Miles and Monk At Newport).
The splendid blaze of Kofi’s alto blended excellently with the warmth of Price’s trombone, and the rhythm section had the sense of controlled ‘looseness’ which is perfect for the Monk repertoire. Jeremy Price’s informative and entertaining presentation of the music added a worthwhile, communicative dimension.
Unfortunately, I had to miss the second set from the band, in which they performed pieces from the Charles Mingus repertoire, but I hope this is a group which we will hear many times again.
Peter Bacon adds:
Many thanks to John Watson for covering the JQ Jazz Legends Festival so well.
I had to miss much of it due to prior commitments, but one gig I did catch and was very glad to have been able to, was The Train And The River, a re-working of some classic – but to me unfamiliar – music by reedsman Jimmy Giuffre, who performed it at the 1958 Newport Festival – the one captured in film for Jazz On A Summer’s Day – with Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone and Jim Hall on guitar.
We had Jeremy Price on trombone, Andy Panayi on saxophone and clarinet, and Jez Franks on guitar. The line-up was fresh, the players evoked their predecessors in the music but also applied their own characters, and the music they chose was an absolute delight.
For me it was like finding the missing link between Aaron Copland’s Billy The Kid suite; a beloved album of my youth, Gary Burton’s Throb (some of the tracks composed by Mike Gibbs); and some of the music of the last 30 years which I have most treasured, made by Bill Frisell. Country jazz, you might call it…
The trio at The Red Lion played most of Giuffre’s Western Suite (meticulously transcribed by Panayi) – Pony Express, Saturday Night Dance and Big Pow Wow – as well as the composer’s The Green Country (New England Mood) and the tune from which this new band takes its name, The Train And The River, which bookended the performance. They also interleaved all this with some Monk (Think Of One and Pannonica), a standard (It Could Happen To You), a Stan Sulzmann tune (Warm Rocky Place) and – hurrah! – a Mike Gibbs’ one (Tennis Anyone?).
Price, Panayi and Franks’ set, perfect for a Saturday afternoon and played with great warmth and humour as well as considerably instrumental virtuosity and finesse, was not only an introduction to some superb music that deserves a revival but also an indication that here is a hugely adaptable and highly original trio which can extend this approach to just about any repertoire it chooses. An asset to any festival line-up or club schedule, regular outings by The Train And The River are eagerly anticipated!
Categories: Live review