2017 Reviews & Pictures
by John Hellings
Catherine Sykes Quartet
Roy Sainsbury Trio
Zoltan Sagi Quartet
Alan Barnes Quartet
Dave Newton Trio
Chris Hodgkins Trio
Chris Gumbley & Bryan Corbett Quartet
Catherine Sykes Quartet
Autumn started off in the Portobello in Worcester and then shifted dramatically in direction to the Berkeley on the Evesham Road. For the first outing at the new room, we were treated to the Catherine Sykes Trio although to be fair it was Catherine plus a trio of superb, complementary musicians, two of whom were well known to regulars.
Singers are not everyone’s cup of tea, especially within the jazz fraternity but what was there not to like about this choice of music and indeed the combination of the singer and the musicians. There were wonderful songs from stage shows and of course the great American songbook and these were songs where you needed to hear the words. And you did. Not only did you need to hear those wonderful words written by some of the great word smiths, but you also needed to understand the feelings behind them. You needed to be part of those emotions. And Catherine made sure you did.
On the technical side, I suppose it’s an advantage if you have experience of singing with a powerful big band and small groups then you have that versatility – Catherine does. Catherine is resident vocalist with The Glenn Miller Orchestra UK and performs regularly on tour with the band throughout the UK and Europe. She has also guested with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Pasadena Roof Orchestra, Nick Ross Orchestra, Manhattan Orchestra, Fat Chops Big Band and The Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra. The musicians were in on the secret as well. Catherine had worked with all of them before and they obviously enjoyed the outing to this new, much larger space at the Berkeley. Apart from more room for the audience, it also meant that the quality of the sound was good as well.
Musically there were a number of references to Ella Fitzgerald and songs she had sung and nothing at all wrong with that. There were also other excursions into stage musicals where the songs lent themselves to a jazz performance.
Musicians were Paul Buck on keyboards. Paul has played in this area for years and he is well known amongst jazz fans. He used to be musical director of the Crescendo Big Band. Clive Morton was on bass while Terry Howard was drummer for the night.
All in all a good start to Severn Jazz in its new home and here’s to many more evenings at the same standard.
Roy Sainsbury Trio
It might have been the start of the autumn season with the advent of mists and darker evenings, but gloom was not on the agenda when Severn Jazz returned from its summer break.
On the bill was the Roy Sainsbury Trio with Charlie Wright on tenor and Tom Hill on bass. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing of course! In fact it all went delightfully right. The choice of music, the presentation of classic jazz standards beautifully played by musicians who knew what their craft meant. It was a superb evening of jazz, delivered with good humour and a great deal of enthusiasm by three consummate professionals who all made it look and sound so effortless.
I will always remember when I was in school, the music master, who had a wicked sense of humour, would check that the headmaster was elsewhere. This was always at the end of term. He would then proceed to play us music which I guess was not in the curriculum. It was a bit like this on Friday. When Tom was happy that the audience was relaxed at the beginning of the second half, a few jokes would take centre stage in between some of the tunes. None of this detracted from the excellent music and during numbers like Emily, if anyone had dropped a pin, it would have made a shattering din.
The rapport between the musicians was also very evident. When Charlie Wright ‘dared’ to include a musical quotation from the Hall of the Mountain King in one number, Roy with a faux ‘I’m the Boss’ look on his face produced a red card and held it aloft. None of this good humour ever got in the way of the superb music and from bossas to Bernie’s Tune and all points in between it was nothing short of a superb musical experience.
Zoltan Sagi Quartet
I dare say most people can assemble a programme of music to be played at an evening of jazz, but I expect that if you analysed the result, you would find a number of personal favourites by the curator of that programme. It was refreshing then, to listen to Zoltan Sagi, playing clarinet on some numbers and alto on others with a staple diet of New Orleans favourites played in a more contemporary way. Not out and out modern, but certainly more mainstream than would normally have been the case. Suffice it to say that the banjo or tuba were absent from the mix and there was not a washboard in sight! Any preconceptions that you might have had were definitely put away in the drawer marked ‘wait till you hear this and then decide.
Zoltan had produced a list of music that was enjoyed by a sadly smaller audience than was expected, but they did appreciate the ability of four first class musicians. They were no strangers to the tunes or the music and no strangers to the others in the band although you did have the impression that it was the first time they had seen those arrangements. This ‘first time’ did not show itself in the playing, their performances were first class.
The musicians also were no strangers to Severn Jazz as well. Al Gurr played keyboard; James Agg, upright bass and Sticky Wicket was the drummer. They excelled on different arrangements of well known tunes. There was nothing hackneyed about any of it – Basin Street Blues, Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans, we all know them and their titles but there was a certain charm that came from playing it straight and not trying to be too clever.
Zoltan presented the quartet in his usual effortless way and told various stories of some of the tunes and how they had arrived in the jazz repertoire. He varied between clarinet and alto – which because of its size was the subject of an argument. Is it a tenor or an alto saxophone? That was settled in the end. I don’t think any money changed hands, but what did that matter after a superb evening of such great music?
If you enjoy the music of Hammond B3 master Jimmy Smith or Larry Goldings, then if you weren’t there, I must tell you that you would have enjoyed the second April session at Severn Jazz. The only reason for two concerts in the same month was to avoid a local clash. Messrs Ferris Lee and Weir is in fact an organ trio in the true sense. David Ferris is the organist while Ben Lee the guitarist and Billy Weir the drummer.
They knew their tunes. They played quite a few well-known numbers and although they did include a number of compositions by various members of the trio, I felt that the amount played wasn’t too many. I know there are some people that do not appreciate any of this ‘own composition’ nonsense, but without them there would be nothing new. The band also played a request, quite happily, and they knew what it was and how to play it.
I was also impressed by their stagecraft. The links were succinct and they had their programme planned out. They knew what they were going to play. There was none of the muttering at the back of the stage trying to figure out keys and what comes next as if they were making up the order of events as they went along. They were across it and David Ferris who was the link man was good at introducing the tunes. He got a few laughs and the audience liked him.
Ferris Lee and Weir are all ex-students at the Birmingham Conservatoire and they are seen and heard in other bands as well as this trio. Despite their competence, it seems that as soon as unknown youngsters appear on the jazz scene, the regulars, or at least some of them, stay away. The audience on Friday was somewhat smaller than usual and I do feel it is so sad, especially when older jazzers are always bleating about the lack of youngsters at these sessions. But surely if supported, younger musicians might well attract a younger audience?
The evening was approached by some in a rather circumspect way, but it was soon evident that the band meant business and they were out to make sure everyone enjoyed their music. And they did. As one ‘mature’ member of the audience said in the bar, ‘now that is my kind of jazz.’
Alan Barnes Quartet
If the saying about buses is true, you know the one where they turn up in their two’s and three’s, then last Friday evening rocked the proverbial bus shelter to many people’s extreme enjoyment.
Because Dave Newton had captivated the audience in March and if that was good (which it was) then this was even better. On this occasion, his old mate Alan Barnes, (Alan says they’ve been married for years) was playing anything with a reed backed up by consummate bass player Dave Green and much sought after drummer Matt Skelton. Now for people who glibly talk about ‘dream teams,’ that is what you call a dream team.
The personnel that made up this quartet was the choice of Peter Doran, who was celebrating an eightieth birthday that weekend and who had sponsored the evening. It was Peter’s dream team and he was only one member of the large audience who went away with a smile on their collective face. I didn’t see one person going out who had not been enthralled by the music that evening. And judging by the applause and laughter this euphoria had been around since the start of the proceedings.
So, summing it up, what can you say about a quartet who entertain and delight? What can you say about these top musicians who are at the top of their game, night after night? The audience loved it all – plenty of great jazz; there was disbelief in some of the musical acrobatics that the musicians came up with. That was added to with plenty of laughter as Alan Barnes got into his stride with those musician’s one liners.
If you had bottled the atmosphere that night then the vintage would have been something to talk about for a long time to come and I’m sure that will be the case.
Dave Newton Trio
There was a question from someone in the bar area of the Portobello on Friday that the trio that we had must play together all the time, because they were so good. This observation came from someone who was not a jazzer in the strictest sense, but liked the sound and could appreciate the music. I explained that it wasn’t necessarily the case in this instance. Bass player Clive Morton was a fairly regular player with Dave Newton, but Nick Millward was drafted in at the last minute to cover for Terry Howard who was not able to make it due to illness. Such was the musical empathy between these musicians that you were not able to tell that they come together to play that evening and it sounded as if they are always together. The list of tunes for the evening was put together in the bar, before the performance started. And the three musicians were across every crochet and quaver.
So, summing it up, what can you say about three musicians who entertain and delight? We are in a smallish pub and here we have a class of musician who would excel themselves on any concert platform and of course do so from time to time.
Not only do they delight audiences, they have fun themselves. We heard some tunes from Broadway shows that we’ve never heard played like it before. But then that’s the whole concept of jazz. There is a proviso. Mel Torme once sang it, you could recognise the tune. And you could. There was a version of Lullaby of the Leaves where all three were having a great deal of fun with looks and hand signals to match.
Dave Newton always has that knack of being really inventive without coming across as over smart and clever. The music just flowed and judging by some of the comments during, and at the end of the evening, most of that audience would have sat down for a second helping then and there. In fact I know there are many who are waiting on his next visit, which will be next month, April 7th, with Alan Barnes.
Chris Hodgkins Trio
Jazz of any kind is rarely to everyone’s taste. Even those who are not musicians know what they like and more to the point they usually know what they don’t like. But it’s usually the new and the different that causes divisions. I do know that our trio on Friday split the room with almost a fifty-fifty not quite sure to really enjoyable. I’m not sure why because no one on the performing end was trying to pretend they were doing something different. This was straight ahead, down to earth jazz with some real foot tappers included in the programme.
I do feel that you got what it said on the tin. A trio of trumpet, keyboard and bass all of whom I thought were very adaptable and able to conjure up a number of moods as a trio.
Chris Hodgkins led on trumpet. He has a long pedigree of playing and then he spent nearly thirty years championing jazz as Director of Jazz Services. It was his first visit to Severn Jazz. On keyboards, Dave Price also made his first visit to Severn Jazz. Dave is a regular on the Hereford and Mid and South Wales scene as is bassist Erika Lyons who completed the group. And Erika has played here a number of times.
The evening consisted of a programme of jazz that no one could have failed to recognise and judging by the expressions on the faces of the audience, everyone did.
I did feel this trio had the ability to conjure up atmosphere from some different periods of jazz and judging by their CD ‘Back In Your Own Backyard,’ which I thought was delightful, they did both in the studio and on their Friday visit.
Chris Gumbley & Bryan Corbett Quartet
It took two years for Bryan Corbett and Chris Gumbley to return to Worcester and when they did return it was so well worth it. Not only did Bryan and Chris come again, but pianist Al Gurr and Bassist Ben Markland who were part of the original package, were also returners.
On the night, the audience were treated to music that they knew and probably had grown up with and their response said it all. There was also a wonderful reaction to not only the music, but the entertainment. Like the endings of tunes – ‘let’s see who can add just another few more notes’. It was fun for the audience and also fun for the musicians.
Another highlight was Chris’s foray into unusual instruments. For most of the evening, he majored on alto or tenor and then moved to the clarinet and afterwards to the bass clarinet. As you’d expect, this is a much bigger than a normal clarinet with a small metal bell. It was visually impressive, with a rich, deep, sound and great to listen to.
Bryan Corbett was in good form and the two gelled and enjoyed themselves as they produced effortless solos with the support of Al Gurr on keyboard and Ben Markland on upright bass. These guys could either predict the future or they knew well what the other musicians would be doing next. I guess it was the latter, but they had the knack of making it look like it was the former.
Jazz is very much an art appreciated by the ears, but to see it live adds another dimension. So many bands forget to use that visual part but not in this case. The nods, the smiles, the raised eyebrows added to the entertainment and it must be the reason why this audience’s response said they would like to see and hear them, yet again.