What a thoroughly absorbing gig. I came away thinking about the music (of which more in a moment) having heard every flutter, rustle and shifting shape. This is a good place to really listen. The sound is good and the acoustic of the room sympathetic and what a treat – a proper piano; there is a bit of clatter from the bar upstairs but I didn’t find it intrusive. The whole endeavor has been assembled with love – use it or lose it jazz lovers. I know coffee isn’t very jazz, but I seemed to cause chaos at the bar when I asked for one in the break – bit of training needed there. Back to that music.
To start the gig the band eased straight into a melodic rubato passage with cymbal shimmers and breathy sighs from the sax before launching the driving modal workout that is the main section of Ballamy’s Tribute to Alan Skidmore’s Tribute to John Coltrane . Blistering solos from Iain and Gareth Williams at the piano set the tone for the evening. It struck me as I listened that nothing is straightforward about these original pieces by Ballamy. The band is constantly changing pace either by literally speeding up or finding different meters within the basic pulse and shifting gears. Bright catchy themes suddenly veer off into passages which almost sound like the harmony is in a different key to the melody before dissipating the tension with a melodic flourish. Ballamy’s sound on sax is utterly distinctive both in the sound he gets and the phrasing and language. Whether you pay attention to the detail or let it wash over you, the themes have a really double sense of highly melodic appealing tunes whilst being kept off balancing by the shape shifting. It can sound deceptively straight forward. There was no doubt the band were equal to the challenge of making this music live and breath on the stand. Ballamy, Gareth Williams, martin France and Chris Laurence (who appeared to be depping for the evening) are all world class musicians. Being picky (we expect a lot of our world class bands in these parts) I’m not totally convinced they were firing on all cylinders as a unit on this occasion…. I’ll just have to make sure I see them again to check that one out – it won’t be a hardship.