The first gig of the the fifth year (count-em) of Jazz at the Vaults and the cellar bar at St. James welcomed now regular visitor Art Themen to commune with the house trio. This season John Paul Gard is occupying the piano chair and he brings another distinctive, fluent voice to the proceedings. Themen’s repertoire and style is familiar. The regular homage to Dexter Gordon (although it was late in the second set before Cheese Cake made an appearance) and honking boppish lines, apparently as natural as breathing to him were there. One of the delights of seeing players of this class regularly, accompanied by a trio as responsive and open to a mood as this band , is that its rather like meeting up with an old friend knowing you are going to have a good evening but not quite sure what mood he’s going to be in. Sure, a few gags are bound to be trotted out (the slightly dodgy please buy CDs, expensive ex-wife) but there’s always the unexpected. So tonight the shadow of Sonny Rollins and a bit of Coltrane hovered more than alter ego Dexter Gordon. Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Up Jumped Spring’ delivered on soprano had Themen wailing and howling in almost vocalised, blurry runs of notes over the driving groove of the rhythm section. The ballad ‘I’ve never been in Love Before’ had the tenor sliding around the melody, using the full range of the instrument. DJ Tony Clark picked up on the mood playing vinatge sonny rollins trio recordings in the break, encouraging Themen to close the night with a tour de force playing four Rollins Blues in sequence before squeezing out anguished and growling lines in his solo (we spotted Sonny Moon for two, Blue Heaven and Tenor Madness but couldn’t name the fourth!). So an intriguing performance by Themen showing a more angular, almost introspective side in the midst of burning bop standards. As ever this was a genuine group effort. It was a delight to see John Paul Gard in action. His solos were full of silvery runs and lightning etching out of the dense harmonies, punctuated by gritty blues phrasing, frequently evoking yelps of approval from the leaders Themen. This was an auspicious start to the season and the achievement by Wade Edwards of maintaining the momentum of the club into its fifth year was rightly lauded. An auspicious start to the season.
The re-return of Art Themen, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday September 15th