Tom Dunnett Sextet

Jazz At The George IV
George IV, Lichfield UK

It was supposed to be a night off – the chance to enjoy a gentle stroll into town, a pint and a half in pleasant company, some live music, with no need for notebook and pen to jot down tune titles or scribble thoughts in order to write a review. What I hadn’t fully taken into account was the calibre of the musicians and the fact that trombonist/leader Tom Dunnett had written new material for what is essentially a new band.

Tom Dunnett

Tom Dunnett

Dunnett, originally from Norwich, then a student at Birmingham Conservatoire and now working hard as a freelance musician in London, is possibly best known in the Midlands as co-leader of the Dunnett/Baxter Big Band, which played once a month at the sadly-now-demolished Yardbird. He also ran a Quintet in Birmingham.

What this new band – a frontline of the leader on trombone, James Copus on trumpet and Chris Maddock on tenor saxophone, with a backline of Will Glasser on drums, Joe Downard on double and electric basses, and Gareth Fowler on guitar – does, it seems to me, is give Tom the opportunity to adapt his hugely accomplished big band writing successfully to a smaller unit, while upping the spontaneous interaction, immediacy and even excitement (though I admit that’s a hard call, because it’s not easy to beat the sheer exhilaration that comes from hearing a big band at full force, especially one as energetic as Dunnett/Baxter).

A group of this size puts more pressure on each individual, and I don’t think Tom could have chosen better. Maddock and Fowler have the Birmingham connection with him (and I suspect all have the NYJO one?), all were on blistering form in the small back rooom of the George IV and all had songs written for them: Copus’ Mystic Flugel; The Jazz Hoover for Fowler; Night Slump for Maddock; Glazenard for Glasser and Downard. The sets were augmented by two tunes from the book of another trombone-led emnsemble, that of (Ku-umba) Frank Lacy: Old World, written by Josh Evans, and The Spirit Monitor. The latter features a simply gorgeous tune, especially in the blend of frontline harmony.

There were also two new Interludes which featured the three horns in rich counterpoint, adding shades of Baroque and church music to calm the jazz exuberance. It might have been an error to couple these just before the final onslaught of Glazenard, but, hey, what’s a jazz gig without some risks taken? The Breakfast Tune (I wonder if I could persuade Tom to let me adopt it as a theme for this site) and Coasting completed the double set.

So, six amazing musicians – I could rhapsodise about each in turn, but there are other things to do and a football match to watch – playing some exceptionally fine compositions. It is a hallmark of Dunnett’s writing that you don’t just get one theme and some solos from him, but pieces which change tone and atmosphere, sometime more than once, so that each ends up with the richness of a mini-suite. And on top of that there is the infectious energy these musicians generate, both in their playing and in their general attitude.

Thanks to Tom for supplying me this morning with the titles I failed to take down last night – what was meant as a night off turned out to be witnessing, whatever happens in the rest of its months, a strong contender for my “gig of the year”. Considering this was just their third outing, I would suggest this band has enormous potential. They have another Midland date playing The Spotted Dog in Digbeth, Birmingham, on Tuesday 19 July. Other clubs and festivals – book the buggers! You will not be disappointed.

  • Keep up with future Jazz At The George IV dates which are organised by Lichfield trumpeter Nick Dewhurst and really do deserve your support HERE.

Categories: Live review

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