Iain Ballamy, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 22nd March

The local stealth festival’s un-fringe was the draw on Thursday night. Whilst others were imbibing the contemplative mood of Tord Gustaven’s band at St. George’s, I was drawn to the cellar beneath St. James Square in Bath to sample the chemistry between Iain Ballamy and the resident Jazzhaus Trio (Vyv Hope Scott on piano as ever, Trevor Davies whispering away on the drums and Wade Edwards on bass). Iain has guested here on at least two previous occasions giving the gig a meeting of friends playing a few of their favorite tunes flavour. The glow in my memory from this latest encounter is from the exquisite Ballamy sound and the gentle twisting of familiar standards so that the resident trio are once again prompted to find new responses. I arrived to Spring is Here, an arrangement that had the band accelerating as they launched into the improvisation and relaxing again through the final statement of theme leaving the breathy but pure sound on tenor that is so distinctively Iain Ballamy’s to make the melody really sing. That sound dominated the evening for me. An intro to Black Orpheus had the sax, with the subtlest change of tone and ornamenting of simple phrases, evoking the sound of pan pipes. Despite some bluesey growls, the vocal, keening quality made Ellington’s Come Sunday sound very contemporary. And the trio did him proud as ever. Vyv’s almost customary stride piano workout on Honeysuckle Rose was contrasted with more ethereal rippling arpeggios on Black Orpheus in response to a different mood. Although insistently rhythmic, Trevor’s drumming acted more as unobtrusive colouring than ‘in your face’ percussion. I left (the dreaded ‘last bus’ early exit) to the sound of Body and Soul with a lovely classic, fat tenor sound, the trio anchored by Wade’s bass, providing the perfect slow momentum of a rythm section right inside the music. It’s always a ‘don’t miss it’ treat when this man comes to visit. The standard repertoire sounds fresh and the band rise to it. This time he even brought a bonus Ballamy, father Mark sitting in for one and betraying at least one of the influences that have produced a world class musician.

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