Nick Dover‘s gig at the BeBop club was billed as both a valedictory (he’s moving back to London soon) and a standards gig. But as we’ve seen before , playing standards for Nick is no complacent flip open the Real Book and see what happens routine. There’s a love affair with harmony, expressed with fluency and clarity in every solo and in the tweaking and adjustment of even the most familiar of classics. It brings a freshness and fizz of excitement alongside the enjoyment of well loved favorites. Whether giving Night and Day 7 beats to a bar, re-casting the harmony to Canteloupe Island giving it an extra edge or constantly modulating the theme of a classic standard, the occasional frown of concentration from bass-ist David Guy showed the rest of the band were kept on their toes. In pianist George Cooper, Nick Dover seems to have found a kindred spirit in a player who also relishes the structure and harmony of the classics and has drawn deep on the inspiration of the greats in the process of finding his own distinctive sound. There’s rhythmic liveliness to his playing as first he traces the harmony with shapely phrases and then accelerates with lightening runs and overlapping patterns. On East of the Sun and Everything I Love we got sizzling solos. It made perfect sense when during the interval he left us with Oscar Peterson over the PA. Cooper doesn’t sound like the legendary Canadian bop pianist, but there’s something of his rhythmic drive there and attention to the underlying harmony albeit with a thoroughly contemporary edge to lines he reels off. Nick Dover is no less steeped in the greats but with an equally developed sense of individuality. He’s got a gorgeous warm tone and has a knack of building solos that build and give an emotional lift as he finds melodic routes through that re-worked harmony. A standards gig? Yes. Predictable? Not for for a minute. Supported by the restless energy of Matt Brown on drums this was a fine quartet of Bristol based players. Local means quality. There’s another chance to prove that with a different selection of local players closing the BeBop’s summer season with a bang on Friday 13th (check out the listing here)
Who we choose as our heroes reveals something about ourselves. As Nick Dover introduced a set of tunes chosen for their association with various of his inspirations and heroes from 50 or more years of recent jazz history, no matter how effortless the warm toned phrases from his tenor sounded, there was no mistaking the care with which even familiar standards had been arranged and the strong melodic sense he brings to improvisation whilst hugging the rich harmonic progressions close. The inspirations, from 50’s cool school tenor man Warne Marsh, via guitarist John Scofield, and trumpeter Tom Harrell to Mark Turner are not necessarily household names, but the standards repertoire they’ve shared (East of the Sun, I fall in Love too Easily, You Stepped out of a Dream, I Loves You Porgy) meant the regular audience at the Vaults had some familiar hooks to draw them in. And it didn’t take long for them to be completely absorbed.
A twist to the structure here, a tweak to the familiar chord progression there had the the effect of making the familiar sound fresh and the mystery of the meeting of jazz minds (the house band of Vyv Hope Scott, Wade Edwards and Trevor Davies had only met guest Nick earlier that evening) worked its charm. Nick’s improvising somehow makes the shifting harmony ring even as attractive fresh melodies appear and on plenty of occasions he built up a head of steam with repeated phrases and climatic moments. Its always a delight and special when a visiting musician’s approach brings out a less familiar side of the house band, a sure sign there’s magic in the air. The repeated pedal note under sections of the the harmony in Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Where or When’ had Vyv spinning out simple arpeggios building tension; I loves you Porgy cast more as a rocky gospel tune tugged him away from familiar bebop territory and let his soulful side rip. The racing even quavers of their take on ‘All or Nothing at All’ had Trevor Davies on drums clattering and revving up the energy without anyone really noticing he was doing it, one of his distinctive and skills. This was a treat. A fine, thoughtful, composing and improvising musician whose evident joy in the results was impossible not to share and another fabulous response from the ever reliable Jazz House Trio. The forthcoming programme promises more thrills with James Gardiner Bateman and then Jake McMurchie coming soon. They’ll ask something different of the house band and you’d be daft to miss the chance to see the response.