2019 Reviews & Pictures
by John Hellings
Roy Sainsbury Trio Feat. Alex Clarke
David Newton Trio
Clive Morton Trio
Hopkins Hammond Organ Trio
Roy Sainsbury’s Rhythm Chiefs
Kim Cypher Quartet
Tom Hill Trio
David Newton Trio
Roy Sainsbury Trio Feat. Alex ClarkeNew to Severn Jazz was young saxophone and flute player Alex Clarke. She came as one third of Roy Sainsbury’s trio, Roy playing guitar and Ben Markland on upright bass. Both Roy and Ben had played before as members of separate line-ups, but as Roy pointed out, he’d been trying to include Ben for many years, but Ben had always been so busy. It was interesting to see how Alex fitted in with a couple of older musicians. After all, she was the front line of the band and a great deal of responsibility landed on her shoulders in that role. Roy led proceedings and linked everything together as Roy does. He does the same with his six piece band. This time though it was just a trio and there’s a different dynamic, both musically and in terms of fun to be had. In the band there was a degree of humour that came from the members. This trio though, was very well-behaved! No comments, no jokes, just music. And the musical fare was well known to all and all the tunes, I think without exception were written and were well known in the last century. That was well before Alex was even born and to be fair I would guess also before Ben. But, she gave the impression that she’d grown up with this music and really became a part of the songs she was playing. She moved between alto and tenor as required and I think that she is the first artist to play a flute at Severn Jazz and she did so on a Antonio Carlos Jobim tune. But sadly it was only on one number – I would like to have heard more. Roy was his usual self, playing some beautiful guitar and linking the tunes in his own inimitable way while Ben, who replaced Tom Hill who was billed to appear, certainly made his mark - plenty of ensemble duties and a few solos and although he had played at Severn Jazz before, it was some years ago. The musical fare included titles such as Darn That Dream, Java, Walking Shoes, Tea For Two, Sonny Rollins’s Saint Thomas and another Rollins tune, Oleo. Altogether an excellent evening which I know was enjoyed by many audience members.
David Newton Trio
Dave Newton, a regular at Severn jazz and by now, a favourite with audiences. What is there not to like? First class piano by a master of improvisation and any other keyboard skills you might like to mention. On this July performance, those members of the audience who arrived early were treated to an impromptu rehearsal with Clive Morton who had returned for this month’s session. If you were there in June, Clive was the bassist then – it was his group! This time, Terry Howard was the drummer and both of them were complementing the Newton piano at a very high musical standard. They play as one, which after all is the object of the exercise.
Dave is not a lover of explaining what he will be playing. Is it because he prefers playing to talking? The links in between tunes are minimal, but it then becomes a guessing game. What title will he start with which then turns into something else? It might be a guessing game but the audience seemed to have a great deal of enjoyment doing just that.
We were treated to all sorts of different versions of well known songs. Watch What Happens came with a latin flavour while in amongst the Nightingales in Berkeley Square and the Small Hotels, there was an original, a very original version of Sonny Rollins’s seminal piece St Thomas.
Another joyful moment was when Dave announced that he would be blending two of his favourite songs, Alfie and Emily. It was a case of spotting the join, but in reality why would you need to. Just sit back and enjoy the music from the masters of jazz improvisation. Bliss.
It was a truly enjoyable, musically fulfilling evening. But would you expect anything less?
Clive Morton Trio
The history of the piano trio goes back a long way in jazz history from the small groups of the twenties right through the fifties and on to the present day. If I were to name the outstanding ones, space would run out. Suffice to say that the piano trio – standard format – piano, bass, (sometime guitar) and drums is still with us and still able to move audiences.
This is what happened on Monday with young players Tom Berge, piano and Billy Weir, drums. Clive Morton, who has years of experience playing bass in so many different situations, was leader. It was billed as the Clive Morton Trio and it was Clive who said to me afterwards that they only played one tune that evening that he was playing for the first time. It was a Roberta Flack hit, so somewhat out of a jazz musician’s territory. But they did it and it will no doubt be included in future programmes. Clive acts as a mentor but he lets his young team make the decisions and good ones they are.
Standing at the back as people go home, you can always tell whether the evening has been a musical success and this one, judging by the parting comments was one of the good ones. I’ve heard people commenting that Tom’s piano playing nods towards that of Dave Newton and that is more than complimentary. Overall, they seemed to love it all.
The music for the evening consisted of standard fare that we all know and have heard before. The beauty of jazz is that unless something is rehearsed and pre-planned to the enth degree, it will always sound a little different every time it’s played. There’s always that little flourish, that quotation from another song which wasn’t there the last time they played it, but that’s jazz and it’s what we enjoy about it.
Among some of the music played, fast and slow and there was even a Charles Mingus composition. That’s brave for a trio. Whatever your opinion of piano trios, you must admit that the musicianship has to be spot on. There is no room to hide in a section of saxophones. What each musician plays will be heard and if it’s wrong the audience will hear it!
I think it’s safe to say that Tom, Billy and Clive will return in the future.
Hopkins Hammond Organ Trio
The Hopkins Hammond Organ Trio have the right name. The Hammond in their name does not apply to the kind of music they play in the sense that they do not have a Hammond organ. What they do have is a keyboard which with a few deft switching arrangements can be made to sound like a Hammond organ. Perhaps, to be more correct, to sound as near as possible to the sound of the Hammond B3 organ. The B3, is a model in the Hammond organ range which has been, and is the one that jazz musicians seem to love ever since Jimmy Smith made it his own in the fifties and sixties. This group though consisted of Matt Hopkins, guitar; Scott Hammond, drums with Ruth Hammond, keyboard. The Hammond was in the name.
So is a keyboard a match for the real thing? The answer to that has to be no, but if you enjoy organ trios as many do, then you’ll put the technicalities to one side and enjoy the music. Our audience on Monday was somewhat thin, but then it was a bank holiday and it also clashed with the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Some people turned up on Monday with pre-conceived ideas. They weren’t that fond of organ trios, but I guess the majority will have grown up with Jimmy Smith and have been re-introduced to the delights of this set up with the emergence of present day trios like that of Nigel Price.
The downside of what we heard on Monday, I think was the lack of the real thing. Keyboards are very good at imitating the sound of whatever, piano, harpsichord, organ and sometimes even a full string section, but it’s not that hard to see through them, or to be more correct, to hear that the sound is not the real deal. But then the musicians’ argument is that you need many more resources to transport the real organ and of course much more money to buy it in the first place.
But these imitators were able to present a mix of tunes and the excitement of the organ trio sound. The balance between the drums, the guitar and the keyboard was a bit lacking at times, and it was almost as if the sound increased in volume during the evening.
There were a few of their own compositions, but mainly they stuck to the well-trodden and fairly safe track of known music like Triste and Pat Metheney’s Ballad.
Roy Sainsbury’s Rhythm Chiefs
What is there to say about this band that hasn’t been said before? Every time they appear, they do not fail to please. They set the place alight with music and memories of a sound that can make you believe you are in a different place and at a different time. You can immerse yourself in the smoky club atmosphere of Minton’s or the Hickory House on 52nd Street with a sometimes delicate, sometimes pounding rhythm set up by the likes of Freddie Green, Walter Page and Jo Jones with front line appearances from Lester Young and Buck Clayton. But, back in the world of the conscious and here we are in the middle of Worcestershire and a band of musicians that we are all familiar with and regard in some cases as friends. We’ve seen them all before, sometimes in different settings, but here they are doing more than justice to the classic sound and some of the music of the Basie small bands.
But this is no copycat tribute act. This band can impress in its own right with a mix of music, some which are jazz standards, others which have been written specifically for the band. Roy Sainsbury, whose baby this band is, leads on guitar. He’s a genial leader who fends off some banter from the band, something he does beautifully. It all adds to the entertainment. On Monday, Bryan Corbett played trumpet; Charlie Wright played tenor saxophone. These two are a consummate double act on their own. Mal Garrett was the man who added to that rhythm section sound and kept it going all evening. As always Dave Newton excelled himself on keyboard, not playing with a scarcity of notes a la Bill Basie, but playing in the individual style of Dave Newton which we have come to know and love. On bass, we had Mark Goodchild whose day job, as Roy says, is in the basses of the CBSO. He also has a track record playing jazz and he fitted in wonderfully on Monday and excelled with a few solos.
It wasn’t only a good evening on a jazz level, but it was so nice to be trying to find space, chairs and tables for so many people who came along to hear this superb band. Also we must say thank you to Peter Doran who, as he was celebrating a birthday the following day, sponsored the evening. Monday evening at the Berkeley was definitely a birthday treat for all of us.
Kim Cypher Quartet
I know what I like and I like what I know. That’s a phrase which was used in a title by the band Genesis and elsewhere as well and it fitted last Monday evening like an expertly tailored glove. Almost without exception as people were leaving, so many came up with ‘we weren’t quite sure whether we’d like it, but we really loved it.’
So if you didn’t turn up because you thought you might not like that kind of music; a bit funky and not quite jazzy enough, then you were wrong. From what I heard, you were definitely wrong. The moral is plain. Don’t always pre-judge what might be on offer. Dig in and try it before you make that judgement.
So for a smaller audience what did we have with Kim Cypher and the band? This was a date on her ‘Love Kim x’ Tour and we had foot tapping music, beautifully played and superbly presented by a singing saxophonist who really knows her stuff. By that I mean knowing the music and knowing also how to appeal to an audience. And that audience wasn’t just there to listen; they were there to be involved.
Also involved very much were the band members, no stranger to local audiences, Mike Green on double bass, new to Severn jazz, Chris Cobbson was on guitar and Mike Cypher who is the drummer in the band, but who Kim describes as her driver, her roadie, her advisor and, oh yes, her husband!
The music ranged from straight ahead jazz to quite funky but everything worked well and there were a few tunes where the audience were clapping and swaying along to the music. That’s not bad getting a jazz audience to join in like that. There were the usual favourites but I got the feeling that all the music had to be suitable for the audience that night. I’m guessing that if the paying customers were of different musical tastes, then the music would have been altered to fit the occasion.
It was a great evening then with a number of people hoping that she might be invited back. That’s if she can get it all into the diary. After all we are competing now with venues like Pizza Express in London! I’m sure Kim and the band will be making swinging music and many friends for years to come.
Tom Hill Trio
If you enjoy a range of music which covers all points from John Lewis’s Django to Cedar Walton’s Bolivia together with anecdotal stories from a time working with Les Brown’s Band of Renown, then this evening would have suited you down to the ground.
Tom’s delivery of humour together with his bass playing is usually a sure fire hit. Without doubt, it was spot on, on this Monday evening. Together with Al Gurr on keyboard and Charlie Wright playing tenor saxophone, there was a wide variety of superbly played jazz. One minute it was Bluesette and then Blue Rondo A La Turk and then a version of Sonny Rollins’s St Thomas which developed into a competition to see who would finish first, or was it last?
Plenty of names dropped in the nicest possible way – Peggy Lee, Boston Pops, and anecdotes about members of the Les Brown band.
There was even a foray into the music of Miles Davis and some numbers they said they were playing for the first time. Brave, but they made it through without bloodshed.
It was again, another evening of good music together with entertaining stories from Tom’s musical career with mentions of George Burns and Jimmy Durante. The mix of music and humour kept everyone smiling and tapping their feet for the whole of the evening.
Yet again a good tenner’s worth.
David Newton Trio
I suppose you could say that this Monday session with Dave Newton was predictable. I can also suppose that it had to be to attract a number of people who knew what they would get and came specifically to see and hear Dave with bassist Clive Morton and drummer Terry Howard. I added in the ‘see’ because this trio is a feast both visually and aurally.
The whole evening was full of jazz of all kinds and to be able to see the musicians interacting with a raised eyebrow, or other small gestures which meant so much, was a joy to behold. Which way do we go, do we change up a key and what do we play next. There were hardly any verbal introductions to tunes. In fact, I think there was only one tune that the rhythm section did not know they were going to play. They picked up seamlessly on everything else and also on the one that was a surprise.
With these three musicians, every outing is a master class in communication. Also it’s a master class in knowing the audience and choosing the right music. We were treated to a very different version of music from My Fair Lady – very different from the mid fifties Andre Previn version that was such a hit. And there was other well known music given the Newton treatment.
How many people would find it easier on cold January evening to sit in front of a roaring telly instead of coming out and facing up to a drive and then having to find a seat in a fairly packed function room? They did come and obviously enjoyed what they heard.
It was an evening of music which was a mix of soulful, introspective and then swinging but above all enjoyable and relaxing. I think it’s the only time I can remember polite audience applause morphing into a rousing ovation and indeed, some cheering in places.
But with all the technicalities, we also enjoyed the melodic excursions and inventiveness which came out of the tune without straying too far away from those original notes. As Mel Torme sang, ‘I Like To Recognise The Tune’ and we did every time.