The last night of the Marsalis Quintet’s run in front of the fabled red benches and packed in tables; what a prospect! And I have to confess to a certain quiet satisfaction at getting on the website speedily in May. As we were shown to our allotted spots, the meaning of ‘sold out’ was clear – it translates roughly as ‘sardines’. The ‘All Stars’ turned out to be a sublime trio with Tom Cawley at the piano, Jeremy Brown on bass and the irrepressible Pedro Segundo on drums. As they slid into a beautifully loose but swinging statement of ‘Like Someone in Love’ a hush fell. Pedro Segundo just nudged the groove on with tender, barely audible brush strokes of his cymbal and Tom Cawley’s choice, moving harmonies were like murmers underneath the melody. The attentiveness of the audience seemed to surprise even the band but it was clear people had come to listen (and yelp, cheer and applaud). The restrained, utterly poised, quiet, fiercely swinging set of standards was gripping and the first muted notes from Wynton Marsalis seemed to continue the mood into the Quintet’s set. They stretched their chops on All the things You Are with Marsalis nodding and grunting approval as the band set their stall out. And what a band. Opinions on what is jazz, what’s hip and what’s not can be safely left at the door (although you may have to let a few Marsalian asides slip by), this band entertain, thrill and move by turns through the medium of the jazz canon and fine writing by Marsalis. All the pyrotecnics were on display from the leader; impossibly fast fluent runs, stomach lurching range and inetrval leaps, squawking vocalised notes through a muted trumpet. The thoughtful almost minimally embellished soloing of Walter Greening on tenor and Jonathan Baptiste were a striking contrast. As on previous evenings a guest was invited up – this evening an extraordinary dancer who shivered responded and twirled to the blues the band unfurled in her honour – a fabulous moment. The rythmn section I thought were awesome. The fluent, propulsive energy of Carlos Henriquez’ bass playing was something to behold. Joining the dancer may not have been acceptable (although for one hilarious moment it seemed like a portly grey haired chap from the front row was about to – he just presented a flower to the dancer); the grooving funky shuffle of Big Hen with which they closed certainly made us want to dance. There is no substitute for a band of this class reminding us at close quarters of the sheer infectious energy of swinging jazz – Marsalis is the master of this.
Wynton Marsalis Quintet & Ronnie Scotts All Stars, Ronnie Scotts, Saturday 20th August