The distress was clearly visible on the door guardian’s face as first yet another punter was turned away and then a couple more shooed of the stairs down to the the cellar bar. “Its a fire risk” was the explanation. Hard blowing sax man Tony Kofi was the cause. His visit, a hotly anticipated return, had sold out and there was no squeezing any more sardines in. The show didn’t disappoint. The energy was high from the start as Kofi, a renowned interpreter of Thelonius Monk’s music, kicked off with Boo Boos Birthday, but he seemed to loosen up and demand even more from the trio as the evening wore. He is a gritty, assertive player able to draw on every bit of the jazz tradition – he’s played and recorded with legends, studied at the legendary Berklee College, ranged across styles from sessions with iconoclast Ornette Coleman to the the South African grooves of Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya. On this showing his heart is in earthily swinging jazz and he hurls himself into solos: it gets a strong, excited response from an audience and they lapped it up at the Wine Vaults. If the house trio of Wade Edwards on bass , Trevor Davies on drums and Vyv Hope-Scott at the piano were nervous at the demands made on them, they didn’ t show it as the visitor pulled out tunes by his heroes, mentors and inspirations which if in classic driving jazz idiom, weren’t all standards. Flowers for a Lady by George Adams had a twisting boppish theme but opened out into a vigorous blowing sequence, reaching a climax with an extended repeated phrase prolonged by a bout of circular breathing. There were tunes by George Coleman, Ellington, Chick Corea’s Bud Powell and of course, more Thelonius Monk. There was plent of michevious quoting as well. Phrases from Charlie Parker’s Little Sued Shoes appeared in a vamp at the end of Wayne Shorter’s Voyager, Bye Bye Blackbird popped out in a George Coleman tune. By the time a closing Blue Monk appeared, the driving grooves had everyone’s pulse racing and the trio were motoring. Vyv routinely delivers driving, muscular swing from the keyboard to the delight of regulars, but an extra gear was demanded by this gig and a finely tuned pair of ears as Kofi took off in different directions and led them into into repeating sections to riff at the end of tunes with no more than a nod and a leading note. There were quieter, tender moments with the sax sometimes given a clarinettish edge by swooping and sliding notes. This was an exciting evening’s music with the ‘visitor joins house band’ formula delivering another winner.
On Cooking and Fire risks; Tony Kofi at St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 13th November