A chill in the air, the scent of rain, about right for August then. Ian Storrer had contrived to make the upper room at the Hen and Chicken feel like a velvet clad cave, complete with a blinking string of lights in the tunnel between stairs and seats. It was an appealing Sunday evening setting for the trio comprising the never predictable, always compelling Sam Crockatt on saxophones, quietly, arrestingly, propulsive and melodic Riaan Vosloo on bass and the restlessly inventive Dave Smith on drums. They served up two tasty sets, taking a winding path through folk songs, a handful of originals and diverse mixture of tunes from the pens of Dave Holland, Gil Evans via Wayne Shorter, David/ Hoffman/ Livingston via Disney and Ornette Coleman.
The snaking theme of Dave Holland’s Four Winds kicked things off followed by a moody, introspective take on the folk song Fair Phoebe and the Dark Eyed Sailor, Crockatt evoking a ghostly ships horn to set the scene. All The Things You Are’s famous theme was sketched and turned inside out, before gaining a hurtling momentum. Grandfather Clock had a delightful drum introduction replete with ‘tick-tock’s’, setting up a lilting groove. Crockatt’s delivery evoked a whiff of Sonny Rollins as dancing riffs and fluid runs ramped the energy up. Crockatt’s own Stroll on the Knoll closed the set with with a snappy energy.
The second set continue in the same eclectic vein, but no matter what the material, there was a musical and melodic understanding that seemed to bind the three together. Drum solos had a melodic shape to them, sax solos a rhythmic energy and distilled economy of phrase, Vosloo was complementing and commenting as much as anchoring.
All of these three are sought over sidemen and leaders in their own right. The trio is a meeting of equal. Their choice of material, fearless playing and instinctive, bred-through- long-familiarity understanding, make them a winning combination.
Once I had a Secret Love. Is it too whimsical to connect the title of a Jake McMurchie favourite to his now 30 year association with the sax? The thought popped into my head as he unfurled, unaccompanied, a viscerally grooving take on the Doris Day theme, artful phrasing, space and a stabbing little phrase upping the momentum as the rest of the quartet joined in. We didn’t really need any reminding of what a musical and inventive player Jake is, the solo that followed rammed it home nevertheless.
The love affair with the sax can’t have stayed secret for long once he started gigging and there were plenty of people who knew how good he was by the time Get The Blessing won the BBC awards in 2008 and the late Jack Massarik was asking ‘where’s he been?’ Sunday night’s gig had the feel of a reflective retrospective. The repertoire dipped into favourites from the past. Monk’s I Mean You, and the standard Paper Moon each got an outing. There were different vibes; a bit of the GTB back catalogue got an airing, Nick Drake’s Know was a mesmerizing opener, a vintage McMurchie tune Oranges and Melons was all delicate lyricism and plaintive soprano swoops following by a more bristling, darker brand new one, as yet untitled.
The recently minted quartet gave the music the energy and emotional charge it warranted. Riaan Vosloo on bass was a taut, propulsive force throughout, on occasion looping a riff until the intensity reached fever pitch. Matt Brown behind the kit never overpowered the sound but lit fires under the band throughout the gig, sometimes stoking the momentum relentlessly, at others laying down a trance like pulse or when the occasion demanded, swinging like mad. Dan Waldman’s guitar provided the perfect harmonic and melodic foil to the sax, finding by turns singing lines and then angular and divergent paths through the tunes.
If the retrospective drew on plenty of back catalogue, it sounded fresh and dynamic in the hands of this band. Lets hope there is plenty more to come from them.
This varied set of compositions from the Bristol based saxophonist Kevin Figes’ Quartet, takes us on an engaging journey through the leader’s stylistic points of reference. Over the last few years Kevin has toured with Keith Tippett, been the front line anchor for various swinging hard bop flavoured bands and co-led and contributed to any number of brazilian influenced and latin bands. The selections on Hometime seems to bring all these interests together and give a superb band a platform for some great playing. The opener Little Miles has a groovy shuffling feel to it with a bluesy air and a playfulness with the metre that gives it an extra lilt. Pianist Jim Blomfield unleashes a trade mark pyrotechnic solo full of tumultous rippling patterns, counterposing rhythms and percussive two handed passages. Pigs has a much more open swinging feel. A series of hooting phrases from the sax precede open improvised episodes from piano and sax. Figes’ soloing here and the interplay with Tim Giles on drums and Riaan Vosloo is one of the stand out moments of the whole set. The elegaic, ballad Home Time played freely and full of emotion throughout is followed by the Brazilian flavoured Lounge Life. The mix of style and feel continues but the connecting thread of the fluid and melodic lines that the saxophone finds through each tune give the sound a very distinctive personal stamp and its one imbued with the sound of bop based jazz. The rhythm section of Vosloo and Giles are sensational, never obtrusive but giving everything a sense of urgency and drama and always nudging and playing off the soloists. This is a fine album and as the baritone makes a suitably growling appearance for the hammond organ accompanied blues See you Later on the final track we can only say ‘yes, lets hope so!’ You can get a copy here