The London Jazz Festival is brain-melting in the volume and variety of music and experiences on offer over a ten day period in November. I could only make one gig, but what a night it was, duly reviewed for London Jazz here. That piece hopefully captures some of the magic of being there. The second set with a full orchestra and sublime arrangements by the late Steve Gray overwhelmed the senses. Since the gig I have also been reflecting on how extraordinary the trio is. With just clarinets, piano and voice they cover ground from Madonna, Tom Waits and exultant and dramatic originals. Check out the CDs on ECM; a unique sound, distilled and expansive all at once. I’ve also been giggling ever since about over hearing the man on the ticket desk explaining to someone that Manfred Eicher (ECM boss) was not now coming. I did ask if I could use the tickets he was going to have – ‘I sat in Manfred Eicher’s seat’ was going to sound good over an expresso in a suitably hip cafe – but I was told ‘your seats are better than his’!
There’s an unexpected link between that gig and last Sunday’s visit to the Hen and Chicken by Dominic Howles’ Quintet. Norma’s gig featured the arrangements of composer, arranger, pianist Steve Gray many of which were penned with Norma in mind. Gray died in 2008 and, it turns out was Dominic’s father-in-law. The Quintet that Howles brought to the Hen and Chicken had plenty of fire-power. With the Fishwick brothers on drums and trumpet, Dave O’Higgins on tenor and Nick Tomalin on piano, they ripped into Howles’ originals and arrangements. The repertoire was firmly in swinging, Blue Note and sixties driving jazz territory, given a thrilling edge by the contemporary sensibilities and sound of the fluent band. The Police’s Message in a Bottle got a jazz working over, odd time-signatures and angular harmony giving it a darker edge, the shuffling groover Ease Up got everyone going. Time after time O’Higgins sculpted graceful lines over dense, twisting harmony, with bursts and flurries of notes wriggling through, building the excitement. The temperature went up every time he stepped forward. There was no doubting where Howles’ heart lies with nods at Benny Golson, a tribute to Coltrane firmly in Moments Notice/ Giant Steps territory over a rolling groove and a borrowed Ray Brown arrangement of Remember. Meet me at the Deli, another bluesey shuffle and the newly formed band, easing into the arrangements were well and truly cooking. They are out and about over the next few months with an album in production, so look out for more