A few years worth of jazz festivals have taught me that it’s possible to overload my senses so that the remarkable can pass by in a blur. Sleeping through most of an eagerly anticipated Jim Hall gig stands as one such memory. Yesterday’s wanderings were planned with ‘less is more’ as a starting point (quantity not quality of course). What a delightful, quirky meander it turned out to be with the wallet lighter by a mere £10 for tickets and a voluntary donation to sustain St. James Picadilly who have the best piano in London, according to Christine Allen who introduced Liam Noble’s lunch time solo gig. It’s a Fazioli concert grand (I wonder what happened to the Fazioli that used to be in Ronnie Scott’s). Liam’s gig provided one of the day’s more random delightful moments. As he climbed inside the piano to pluck a few strings and rattle the piano, creating an abstract sound scape that was his setting for one of a cycle of Japanese poems on the theme of death (he does have an eye for the commercial has he pointed out), I wondered how he was creating more mechanical random noises that seemed to blend beautifully with what he was doing. It took a moment to realise we were hearing the city. We were in St James, Piccadilly and it was like, well, Piccadilly Circus out there. A revved scooter, a slamming door, a high pitched car horn seemed almost scripted. It was the city joining in – odd and delightful. The mobile phone ring tone from a couple of rows in front didn’t work so well for me.
Later, a sample of the Jay Phelps Quartet was a delight on the free stage at Ray’s Jazz. He was at Ronnie’s the day before supporting Dee Dee Bridgwater, there Late Late last night, and supporting the David Murray Big Band with Macy Gray on Sunday at the Barbican. No compromise on quality at Ray’s then and it looked like the programme had been strong all week.
That ticket was for the Con Cellar Bar. As my other pair of ears (back from a day working whilst I relaxed!) pointed out after we’d crowd surfed our way to our seat at the front of the postage stamp sized bar so that we were staring down the bell of Julian Arguelles’ sax, the contrast with the previous evening could hardly have been more extreme. At the Festival Hall for Esperanza Spalding we’d been well back in the balcony. Distance between us? She was the size of a pin to the eye. Apart from the fact that the Con Bar would fit onto the Festival Hall stage several times over, had we been the same distance from Esperanza we’d surely have been arrested for invading her personal space. I’m not sure of the economics of seeing so much world class music for so little outlay, but I ended the day feeling blessed.