2016 Reviews & Pictures
by John Hellings
John Hallam & Remi Harris Trio
Richard Baker Quintet
Art Themen & Zoltan Sagi
Julian Stringle Quartet
Laura Collins Trio
Paul Sawtell Vibes Trio
David Newton Trio
Zoltan Sagi Quartet
Bruce Adams Trio
Alan Barnes & David Newton
John Hallam with Remi Harris Trio
John Hallam & Remi Harris Trio
Perhaps the words ‘melody’ or ‘melodic’ are regarded as old fashioned by some jazz lovers, but this Friday session at the Portbello was full of melody. That does not mean that it wasn’t also overflowing with foot tapping swing and inventive jazz, it was.
John Hallam joined Remi Harris who had with him Caley Groves on rhythm guitar and Mike Green on bass.
A friend who was with me always complains that jazz can lose itself in inventive music and in the middle of any tune you would be hard pressed to know what that tune was. Even he admitted that you could, as Mel Torme once sang, recognise the tune.
With excursions into the music of Gerry Mulligan and many of the great songwriters, John Hallam’s saxophone and clarinet playing was as silky smooth as ever while Remi’s guitar playing explored the compositions of Wes Montgomery. In fact the balance between Montgomery and Mulligan versus Reinhardt and Grappelli was very respectable!
John’s links to the music were funny and also interesting. Especially when he explained that the easiest way to empty a room was to announce a composition of certain musicians. He then proceeded to say that he would be playing something by Charles Mingus – to a chorus of murmurs and shuffling feet. But no one ran for the door which was fitting, because he then played Mingus’s tribute to Jelly Roll Morton which was both delightful and melodic and not at all what the audience expected.
Richard Baker Quintet
Put five musicians together. The leader is a classically trained trombonist and the remainder of Friday’s band were all professional musicians involved in wide range of musical genres. So you could expect a certain standard of musicianship. This was the case at November’s gig and we were not disappointed at the level of skill.
It wasn’t the standard of musicianship that was in question, but the choice of music for the evening left a few in the audience scratching their heads.
The quintet were able to swing along with numbers that everyone knew, but when it came to some of the other, lesser known pieces, they were not as well regarded by some of the audience.
For example, there were a number of tunes from the ‘as played on YouTube’ catalogue which didn’t appeal to some of the audience. I guess that if the quintet had not strayed from its original description of ‘straight ahead west coast sound’ and perhaps stuck with the tried and tested standards, then everyone would have been happy. There was also the bass guitar which was ably played by Dirk Griffin but there are still those who were not expecting this substitution and would always prefer the traditional upright bass. As it was, there were a few disappointed members of the audience. But conversely, there was a greater proportion of those present who loved every syncopated crochet and quaver – and they said so!
Art Themen & Zoltan Sagi
There must be a situation when four musicians who have not played together as a quartet meet up for an evening of jazz. When they do, they captivate the audience who have difficulty in believing that they are together for the first time. It defines jazz when this happens.
This was what did happen on the first Friday in October when Art Themen joined with Zoltan Sagi, Al Gurr and Bill Coleman to produce some delightful music which captivated the audience. As well as producing some wonderful music, there was not an ego to be seen. It was such a good evening, that many people as they walked out wanted the group re-booked as soon as possible.
Not only did they gel as musicians, they also conveyed their enthusiasm to each other and the audience. They were having fun and this was infectious. A couple of the musicians and many of the audience had struggled through some of the worst traffic congestion that Worcester has known for some time. All due to emergency repairs, but still causing long delays. This didn’t stop the music coming and although Art Themen only managed to get there ten minutes before the starting time, it all happened on time and there followed two hours of superb jazz .
Art said afterwards that doing an intimate gig like this was ‘so easy for the musicians and they were able to enjoy their playing rather than treating it like work.’
That emotion certainly came across and it really would be good to know that the musicians who produced that evening of superb music, so effortlessly, could well be back to do it all over again.
I’ll drink to that!
Julian Stringle Quartet
Julian Marc Stringle is a master of both the clarinet and saxophone. He is personable, humorous and above all, musically passionate about the jazz he plays. This was evident in the September session of Severn Jazz when he played music which delighted a fairly full room. He enjoys his jazz – he started his professional life with Acker Bilk at the age of fourteen!
It was good to see so many people enjoying this high standard of jazz from musicians who had worked on big stages and here they were, giving the same thought and flair in a smaller, more intimate setting.
The same must be said for the trio. The keyboard, bass and drums who not only provided an engine room of a constant beat, but also produced some excellent ideas to complement JMS.
They were John Patrick, keyboard; Clive Morton, bass and Terry Howard, drums.
John Patrick has been a mainstay in many jazz groups and bands over the years and was the musical director for Central Television during the ‘Tiswas’ years.
Clive Morton is a bass player who has accompanied Frank Sinatra and Stephane Grappelli and also tutored Jamie Cullum.
Terry Howard is a drummer and a regular in Severn Jazz. He is always popular when he plays as part of the Dave Newton Trio.
With pedigrees like that you would expect what we got. And we did get an excellent evening of understandable and enjoyable jazz which was appreciated by a good sized audience.
Laura Collins Trio
Laura Collins has a vocal background of church music, but she slipped out of her cassock and donned a dress to move her music from that of the cloisters to that of the musical stage and the jazz club.
Her programme consisted of standards which lend themselves to a jazz setting with a few diversions into the realms of Norma Winstone and a change to the lyrics of The Girl From Ipanema. I’m not sure whether the audience quite was quite ready for complexities of Ms Winstone or whether they allowed liberties to be taken with favourite songs. But there were no protests perhaps because it was a song of Brazil and it was the opening night of the Olympics—in Rio.
With a friendly stage presence and a winning smile together with a vocal talent that sang the songs with understanding and feeling, Laura quickly got the audience on side. Her allies in this were the two musicians who are very experienced in this music and also very used to accompanying singers. Paul Sawtell, who was playing keyboards tonight as distinct from vibraphone last time he was at Severn Jazz and a repeat of the excellent bass playing of Erika Lyons. There’s an art to playing for a singer and they both do it very well without hiding their talent and at the same time, without any sense of domination.
Paul Sawtell Vibes TrioIt’s good to hear jazz from, say, a saxophone player, a pianist, a trumpet or trombone. Together with a good rhythm section and collective thinking you’ll have a session of good, swinging jazz. Substitute the main instrument for a vibraphone, or vibraharp as some were called were called, then you have a different sound and jazz in a completely different dimension. It can conjure up memories of the signature sound of so many artists – Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson or Victor Feldman and more. Severn Jazz on the first day of July presented Paul Sawtell on vibes. He’s normally sitting at a piano keyboard but he also excels with the mallets. On the double bass was the versatile Erika Lyons and at the piano keyboard it was the equally inventive, Alex Steele. Between them, they conjured up an evening of music that obviously delighted the audience. The programme consisted of many standards, but some jazz favourites were also included – for example On Green Dolphin Street. There is something about the sounds of vibes which gives the music a brightness which is sometimes absent with other instruments. The fact that it’s not only single notes that convey the tune, it’s also the ability to add other notes and to give that a sound that with the addition of the vibrato, will make it shine. Paul and Erika will be back at Severn Jazz on August 5th, they’ll be backing singer Laura Collins. If their performance reaches the standard set in this last session, then there will be a roomful of happy jazzers.
David Newton TrioThe session On Friday June 10th was yet another example of what David Newton does and does so well. It was an evening of mainly well known music but David, as always, added his own personal touch and made every song his own. It was as if that music had just flowed from the composer’s creativity to his pen and onto the manuscript paper. The audience could have been entranced even if there was no bassist and drummer, but they were there and they were very much a part of the great scheme of things. Drummer Terry Howard and bassist Clive Morton were more than just on the same wavelength. There were times when I’m sure their brains were in some way connected. Also, there were some lovely stories about a number of composers and artists whose names are legendary. The credibility of some of these was even greater in that David had met some of these giants of the music world during his travels and therefore they were first hand as well as being entertaining. The audience reaction to the performance can be judged by their exit at the end of the evening and some of the remarks made. ‘Where does he get his ideas from?’ ‘What a perfect session.’ And there were many more than that. It is good to know that David Newton will be coming back for a Benny Goodman evening with Julian Stringle in September.
Zoltan Sagi QuartetHearing the name Zoltan Sagi means you are going to be part of an evening of music designed to press all your jazz buttons. This was very much the situation at Severn Jazz on May 6th when Zoltan was with ‘Sticky’ Wicket on drums, Paul Sawtell, keyboards and James Agg on upright bass. There was no mistaking these professional jazzers who were so able to play anything and make it sound as though they had been rehearsing it until it had a high shine. Each performance was polished. Zoltan is master of the clarinet and it is hard to realise that he picked up the saxophone afterwards. Paul Sawtell played a vital role with his keyboard skills and his solos kept the audience glued to his fingers trying to link them with the resulting sounds. James Agg was able to conjure up that lovely rich bass sound which is not present with all bass players. His solos were a melodic joy. And for drummer ‘Sticky’ Wicket, who time after time shows his versatility in gigs like this. ‘Sticky’ can play with gusto. He can be a swing drummer. He can play Buddy Rich as well as the next but he can also be soft and sympathetic as he was tonight. As a quartet, we were treated to an evening of superb jazz excellently performed.
Bruce Adams TrioApril - The phrase ‘great American songbook’ can conjure feelings of sameness. The same tunes played in the same way by the same artists. This is where jazz has the edge on many other styles of music. The variations in the hands of a trio of very creative musicians are endless. It’s a bit like those paint brands which can mix you any colour you want! Bruce Adams, Brian Dee and Bill Coleman were a match for any colour. They played the tunes that we’d all heard before but the audience was entranced with the inventiveness of all three musicians. Bruce led with his range of sometimes forceful and sometimes very gentle trumpet or flugel. Brian’s keyboard style matched it beautifully while Bill Coleman as always, was the consummate bass player who kept everything swinging all the way through a greatly enjoyable evening. We enjoyed a whole range from Cole Porter through the Gershwins and many others in between. All of them came with a story either about the tune or its composer or even how it came to be written, courtesy of Mr Adams. As they left at the end of the evening, the audience made many very positive comments – their enjoyment of the evening was obvious and certainly not hidden.
Alan Barnes & David NewtonMarch - Jazz musicians will say that the smaller the group, the less places there are to hide if the standard is not high. So when it comes to a duo, the hiding places are almost non-existent. But when the duo is the piano of David Newton and the saxophone or clarinet of Alan Barnes, places to shelter are not on the list. These two might have been playing as a duo since their days at Leeds College of Music, but they don’t necessarily play in this format on a very regular basis and when they do the result is spell binding. It was evident from the number of people who, as they were leaving, were making the point of saying how much they had enjoyed a spectacular evening from two gifted musicians. Remarks like ‘superb,’ ‘perfection’ and ‘wasn’t that absolutely wonderful’ came from many of the audience. The repertoire ranged from compositions by Barney Bigard which displayed Alan’s talents and the full range of his clarinet to Billy Strayhorn which gave them both, especially David, a chance to indulge us in the soft and sweeping sounds of a master composer. Let’s not forget also a typical evening of the humour of Alan Barnes linking the music. He was really on top form in the speaking department as well. It was a couple of hours bunged full of delightful crochets and quavers but all of them were of wonderful value; none of them failed to disappoint.
John Hallam with Remi Harris TrioFebruary - Some combinations of musicians are very listenable, while others leave you with euphoria and a feeling that you want more. Such is the combination of the Remi Harris trio with reed player John Hallam. If you had expected a couple of hours of gypsy jazz plus tenor and clarinet added, then you would have been disappointed. Of course there was some, but there was also a range of great American songbook right through to bop—complete with stories about the music, back in the day. So we were regaled with compositions by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli alongside music written by Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. Remi once told me that this was what he enjoyed, being able to play hot club jazz one minute and then introduce some of Parker’s bebop straight afterwards. Couple all that with first class repartee from both leaders and an extremely supportive bass and rhythm guitar it was an evening of jazz which will be foremost in a lot memories for quite some time to come.