The return – Jazz Defenders at Lakota Gardens, Sunday 13th September

“I was 32 in March” confided George Cooper, to an excited and excitable Lakota Gardens, as full as at could be with socially distanced trestle tables, peopled with sextuplet huddles keeping the scurrying waiting staff busy via the in-house ordering app. His follow up was greeted with a hearty cheer crossed with a sympathetic rumble: “This is my first gig as 32 year old”.

The Jazz Defenders gave it all they’d got on Sunday, and we gave it back with love. The thrill of being in the same space as all that living, breathing, bustling energy is hard to distill. In place of introspection and eloquence, loud whoops and cheers had to suffice. The Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival have worked with Lakota Club in St. Pauls to come up with formula that works for now, and a monthly programme that draws on Bristol’s deep well of musicians.

The Defenders have been a slow burn. Back in 2016 we caught them burnishing their distinctive approach to cherishing the Blue Note legacy of classic hard bop. They’re something of a Bristol super group, with Nick Malcolm on trumpet, Nick Dover on tenor and Will Harris on bass, the whole band can be found leading their own projects, crossing just about every musical boundary, running recording studios and, in the case of new addition on drums, Ian Matthews, touring the world with rock monsters Kasabian.

The set on Sunday was mostly material from their debut release Scheming. The album is all originals, although it would be easy to be persuaded that each one was from a classic recording. I Bought It On the Moon started with a crackling bass figure that could be a nod at ‘Night In Tunisia’. A spooky horn motif eased in, and the swing kicked. There were sparks flying between bass and piano. They kicked off with Costa Del Sol, a bristling latin flavoured groove carrying along a catchy melody, before trumpet and and tenor traded phrases to ramp up the energy.

In the midst of the clatter and excitement, it would be easy to miss the quality of the writing that makes all these tunes go off like a rocket; buy the music (available on all formats here), it’s really very good.

But Sunday was all about the moment, and the joy of live music. The Defenders have somehow managed to insinuate some modal blow-outs into their homage to the spirit of Blue Note, and Late seemed to sum it all up. Late in the set, the rolling groove seemed to settle in to a vamp, and the solos had an exultant edge, Cooper’s explosive performance risking the social distancing by bringing people to their feet. They played us out with the bluesey stomp Everyone’s Got Something, a shuffling groove that gave full rein to Matthews’ thunderous energy, and then we were on our feet with loud cheers. It’s good to be back.


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