The return of Andy Sheppard and the Pushy Doctors, The Bell Inn, Bath, Wednesday August 22nd

They’re back. The first outing for six months for what the uninitiated might think is a classic jazz organ trio (sax, drums and organ player) but for those of us who’ve been excitedly following their all to infrequent forays  to various hostelries in the area (previous reports to be found elsewhere on this blog), its a dazzling genre busting swerve through surging post bop jazz, loving but radical surgery on rock and pop classics and angular, wryly humorous programming that never fails to have an audience begging for more. Lucky Bath, this latest burst of activity started at The Bell in Walcott Street last Wednesday.   They began as ever with a jazz classic Killer Joe, a staple of organ trios and bands who cherish swinging, bluesy, gospel inflected jazz. But as they tore into Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, the sound was a more flat out modal jazz and Andy Sheppard’s furious arpeggios, squeals and honks on tenor reminded us that, as with many tenor players, perhaps a first love was John Coltrane, an impression re-inforced when, after an excursion via a Pink Floyd tune, Sheppard launched into Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice with drummer Tony Orrell doubling the distinctive rhythmic hooks of the theme.  Their layoff as a band was enforced by musical projects elsewhere that in each case could hardly be more removed from this. Andy Sheppard, a genuinely world class musician and ECM recording artist last seen in Bath at the Festival with the whisperingly quiet, exquisite Trio Libero; Dan Moore on the organ seems to tour with a bewildering array of bands but country -soul band  Phantom Limb are really attracting attention with their latest release. Tony Orrell has a long history of collaborations most recently with conductor Charles Hazelwood.  Pushy Doctors then gives another side to all of them free rein, but the quality will out no matter the context. Andy Sheppard some how builds solos that first make you say wow, then raise the hairs on the neck, and then raises everything a notch – if you don’t feel the surges of excitement you should get some one to check you still have a pulse. But this a trio and the sound, as well as that burning sax and swirling growling organ, is built round clever arrangements and rhythm. And Tony Orrell is the beating heart of it. Not always obviously, he managed to play a rock ballad later in the second set without playing an obvious back beat once. But the pulse and the groove is always there. The joins between songs are frequently hilarious.  I’ve previously called them segues, but on reflection they are more like crunching musical handbrake turns.  After more coltrane-esque fireworks on My Favourite Things, an uptempo swing in 3/4, they ended it by picking up and beating out a slower 4/4 pulse before switching to Whitney Houston’s Saving All My Love. The second set finished by going from what sounded like Back Street Betty with a New Orleans funk groove, to Baby Love and on into What a Wonderful World, finishing on the phrase I love You. Priceless. Yes you laugh, but you whoop as well. You might chuckle at a song choice, but you’ll be moved as well. How can you not skip home afterwards. Its life affirming stuff.



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