Art Themen, St. James Wine Vaults, May 13th

Is Art Themen a national jazz treasure? (Discuss). There’s a little post here by Simon Purcell summing up the creative movers and shakers of post-war British Jazz. No name check for Art there, but he was playing with those people and learnt his jazz as it was being formed and shaped by the great American innovators (not to mention gigging with the aristocracy of British blues like Alexis Korner – there was a ‘when I got paid £15 for the session on Joe Cocker’s No.1 single’ anecdote last night).  This is an elaborate way of saying he’s the real deal. As the first phrases of ‘Love is a Many Splendoured Thing’ unfurled from his shiny tenor last night it was hard not to sigh with recognition – that’s what jazz sounds like. He did feed us the lines to describe his music, declaring early in the evening his love for Dexter Gordon before launching into Cheese Cake (and if you’d closed your eyes you could have believed it was Dexter Gordon, so smokey was that tenor sound). Its quite a compliment to the club and the resident trio (Wade Edwards – bass, and organiser in chief, Trevor Davies on drums and Vyv Hope Scott on piano) that he was clearly so willing and pleased to be back. We could but just nod smugly as he observed it was the sort of room that jazz should be played in – especially this sort of jazz. The band were swinging hard. Versatile as Vyv on piano is , you sense that the muscular swing, blistering ,bluesy, boppish lines and dense locked hands chordal passages are home territory for him.  So stylistically and in repertoire the 60’s and standards were the material but there was nothing complacent about this: the playing communicated plenty of intensity and emotion and Themen is not averse to squeaking and honking. And like all great musicians, he got the best out of the band with plenty of features for Trevor’s driving, exuberant drum solos with Wade really digging in and grooving. It was one of those leave with a smile on you face gigs again.

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