Wednesday night found me in London and a warm, sunny day meant the early evening in Soho was buzzing with pavement diners and life. Passing Ronnie Scott’s, where the McCoy Tyner residency had sold out, I ducked into the Spice of Life and downstairs to the little ‘Backstage at the Spice bar’ as Barry Green’s trio were ripping into what sounded like Lennie’s Pennies. The prospect of this trio accompanying Swedish emigre, Emilia Martensson is what had lured me here. The Spice of Life wednesday sessions, hosted by Paul Pace formerly of Ray’s Jazz, are bookended by the nights house trio accompanying an ‘up and comer’ for a mini-set early on and an open mic jam in the last section of the evening. In the middle, is a longer slot by a guest. Emilia Martensson’s reputation has been growing. She has appeared with last year’s new buzz the Kairos 4Tet and tonight we were able to hear her on her own repertoire. The opening swedish folk song followed by an arrangement with her own lyrics of Joe Henderson’s Black Narcissus set her stall out: jazz and improvisation yes, but first come music, melody, the lyric shaped by personal history and instinct whatever the categories. The trio, with Dan Farrant on bass and Jon Scott on drums were a fantastic unit. Whether building a rocking momentum behind James Taylor’s Another Day or a gritty, bluesey Willow Weep with the simplest of stripped down accompaniments there was a dynamic feel to it all and some glorious solos from Barry Green on piano, building excitement from the simplest beginnings. Martnesson’s beautiful, clear toned voice was equally at home on the European flavoured material as on standards. This was a band making lovely, grooving music without being confined by labels or expectations of what is meant by jazz. There’s an album due out on Babel later in the year and a tour, so there’ll be more chances to catch up with this crew.
Emilia Mårtensson, The Spice of Life, Soho, April 6th