Brass Jaw, 21st October 2016

In jazz circles, there are few things more emphatic than opening a number with a bass line delivered by a baritone saxophone. Whatever follows has to be robust and compelling—and as often as not, a complement to its surprisingly fleet, dance-like rhythms. The line-up of Brass Jaw—three saxophones and a trombone—might have puzzled anyone who had never heard a brass quartet as a free-standing jazz outfit, but any puzzlement will have been dispelled within minutes. This was wonderful music-making: intricate, lyrical, occasionally raucous and hugely entertaining.


Allon Beauvoisin on baritone was not restricted to the bass line, but his sheer stamina and focus on maintaining an often rapid-fire bottom line to the music was breath-taking for the audience, too. In the second set, he played a lengthy cadenza which was as good a display of the baritone’s expressive range as you’ll hear anywhere.

Paul Towndrow (alto) and Konrad Wiszniewski (tenor) were remarkably well matched, well beyond the obvious necessity that they be able to navigate around one another at high speed in improvisatory as well as chorus playing. Although each had a voice of his own, they had one important feature in common: zero reliance on familiar saxophone tropes and showy but uninteresting runs up and down the instrument. Even at the fastest tempos, each had an abundance of ideas and both their solos and duets were well structured—not that it was always obvious: the sheer verve of their playing was a continuous delight. In the last number of the first set, they started with a duet that combined high speed, intricacy, precision and passion. It scarcely seemed plausible that two saxophones on their own could make that music.

Michael Owewrs’ trombone brought something special to the proceedings, giving the group sound a tonal and harmonic depth which is sometimes absent in saxophone quartets. His big, rounded sound was particularly effective in long, arcing notes that seemed to come from over the horizon. He was equally compelling in the punchy asides and carrying or doubling melody lines.

One would have supposed that the prospect of a brass quartet maintaining the level of excitement that they generated at the start would be a challenge, but they carried off the evening triumphantly. Clever arrangements, truly engaged playing and charming stagecraft underpinned everything, but they combined in a way that gave us something truly more than the sum of the parts. Or to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, any sufficiently advanced music is indistinguishable from magic.

© J.Whitman 22nd October 2016

Brass Jaw, 21st October 2016

Jeff Williams Quartet, 14th October 2016

The absence of a piano in a drummer-led quartet is certain to shape the music, but for able and compatible musicians the format opens up an inexhaustible range of expressive possibilities. The Jeff Williams quartet was certainly up to the challenge. Their two sets were fiery, passionate displays, and a study of the way in which a well-rehearsed and closely-knit group enables rather than constrains inventive soloing.

jeff-williamsWhat was notable from the start and sustained throughout was that there was no ‘front line’: although alto, tenor, bass and drums played in various configurations and sequences as well as simultaneously, the sheer power of the performances conveyed a musical ‘united front’—a band of equals, but equal on a level that would be difficult to match anywhere. Their technical finesse never became detached from the music, but it would have been difficult to miss.

Jeff Williams’ drumming sustained the music—much of it up-tempo—as well propelling it along, with constantly shifting, complex rhythmic patterns and cleverly executed accents. He and bass player Sam Lasserson seemed to be of one mind. John O’Gallagher (alto) and Josh Arcoleo (tenor) both turned in impassioned performances. For all of the hard-driving character of much of the music and the saxophone improvisations, there were still hushed spaces in which one of the horns plus drums or bass would retreat to an intensely lyrical exchange, slowly bring the music back to the boil. There was even a sideways, supercharged take on a Capypso, with some lovely soloing and a few humorous exchanges.

There was nothing ‘cool’ about this jazz; nothing that didn’t require advanced technique and keen engagement; and for the audience, little not to marvel over.

Jeff Williams Quartet, 14th October 2016

Malija, 7th October 2016

None of the players who comprise this outstanding trio is a stranger to Wakefield Jazz, but this wasn’t ‘familiar faces in a slightly altered context.’ It was an intriguing prospect: three master musicians playing original numbers, but without the support of a drummer.

The absence of a drummer in small-group jazz is still relatively rare; and in able hands, at least, it imparts a wholly different slant on the character and possibilities of jazz. Perhaps most importantly, the sources of the music’s rhythmic appeal require forms of alertness, resourcefulness and interplay of a high order.

At every tempo and through every instrumental configuration, the music carried an edge just-poised risk-taking.

But the music was also spacious, which allowed us to savor the way Jasper Holby can phrase a bass run; and to marvel over Mark Lockheart’s sinuous lyricism, especially on soprano. Liam Noble is well known as a highly adaptable pianist—but on this occasion, he seemed able to find a new voice, an extended technique or some wholly unexpected but completely apt way of either shaping or complementing the music. In the trio’s Ellingtonian homage, he played a near-sinister walking/stalking

left hand, while his right playfully skipped behind Mark Lockheart’s melody line. Brilliance doesn’t have to appear as fireworks.

The numbers in the second set were longer and more loosely woven, which allowed each of the musicians to stretch out, demonstrating individual prowess, of course, but without losing sight of the integrity of the group sound.

The group had a particularly good line in finishing a number—sometimes false-footing us, or with a clever, unexpected turn at the last moment—and then there was their ability to finish on an extended, beautiful harmony, a kind of musical ‘dying with a dying fall.’ Notes like that—and indeed, gigs like that—don’t fade quickly from memory.

© Jim Whitman, 8th October 2016

Malija, 7th October 2016

Ingrid Jensen Band, 3 June 2016 at Wakefield Jazz

One of the great delights of jazz is the way well-turned improvisations, even on the most familiar melodies, have a way of surprising us. But a live performance can also confound our expectations. What might we have anticipated from a professor of jazz trumpet at the Bruckner Conservatory of Music in Austria? Masterful control, of course; clean, well-articulated runs, nuanced phrasing, precision and clarity. From the fist bar, we were put on notice: all that and more, in configurations it would have been hard to imagine, let alone foresee. Ingrid Jensen started her set with a blistering, extended duet with drummer Tim Giles—and from there, into an intense quartet performance.

ingridFor a band that had only been performing for the length of Ingrid’s relatively short tour of the north, their coherence and shared musical agility was astonishing, especially because one of the key features of the music in both sets was its sheer rhythmic variety, with sharp turns, graceful swells and sudden pauses, and cross-cutting rhythms  that could so easily have ended in a pile-up.

Every number had its surprises, most often in the form of some beautifully executed solo and duet work.

Much of the music was thickly textured, driven by Tim Giles. Polyphonic drumming has been a mainstay of jazz for many a year, but without good musical judgment and keen responsiveness, it can overwhelm other players. Not so here: the colours and textures he produced were integral to the band’s sound; and when he cut loose, he still held his intense musicality. Bass player Andy Champion demonstrated what accomplished bowing technique can add to a jazz performance—his contributions especially pronounced in some of the more abstract and experimental interludes. More conventionally, his playing is distinguished by a technique that is as fleet as it is powerful and resonant.

The guitar playing of Jez Franks was a show in itself. He combined melodic invention worthy of John Abercrombie, together with that combination of power and a ‘how’d he do that?’ command of the fretboard that one readily associates with John Scofield—and all with a voice still his own. And although he can melt a chord into next week, the audience thrilled as much to his playing on the more intense numbers, whether at the extreme of the guitar’s upper register or providing  a powerful backing for Ingrid’s trumpet.

Who might have guessed that the trumpet could exhibit so many different tonal qualities? And who could have expected to hear them in a single performance? Ingrid Jensen employed the familiar range of mutes, but also made deft and often subtle use of electronics—repeats, loops, distortions—and, most memorably, a carefully controlled echo effect, which made her long notes seem as though they were arcing over the horizon, to be met by Andy Champion’s gentle figure played on the harmonics of the bass. There were many such moments—and for all that the music was often electric and hard-driving, there were also many spacious passages, which showed each of the musicians to further advantage.

By the end, the audience was shouting for more; and for an encore, the band invited tenor player Riley Stone-Lonergan to join them. A ‘vamp’—Ingrid’s description—seemed a remarkably pale way of describing this roof-raiser. It was a sensational end to an evening of riveting music. This band’s element was fire: hot, intense—and brilliant.

© J.Whitman 4th June 2016

Ingrid Jensen Band, 3 June 2016 at Wakefield Jazz

Ian Shaw, 27th May at Wakefield Jazz

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Because Ian Shaw has such a commanding stage presence and is so engaging and entertaining, this could easily have been knock-about cabaret, punctuated with music. It wasn’t; and that’s because the man exudes music—and every number was shot through with his seemingly endless musical invention and an expressive range that is as astonishing for its variety as for its sheer musicality.

There is no shortage of singers who can reach a falsetto, but none who can do so with such assurance, precision and sustained power. What comes at a stretch for most singers Ian Shaw can modulate as though it were his middle register—and from there, he can pivot, seamlessly, to yet another mode of expression. But there is considerably more to his music than a very large array of well-honed techniques: for all variety and richness of his vocals, they are placed at the service of the songs: these were felt, often passionate renderings.  There were plenty of technical marvels in his take on ‘A Place for Us,’ but his delivery was  poignant and touching.

Anyone familiar with Shaw’s output will know that he is also a considerable pianist—punchy, percussive and playful.  But it didn’t take long to appreciate the qualities his accompanist, Jamie Safirudin brought to the proceedings. He’s a more lyrical player than Shaw, with a lighter touch and no shortage of supportive melodic invention. He was joined by trumpeter Miguel Gorodi—and quite aside from the colour both provided in each of the numbers, their own interplay was an added treat, with plenty of blues-inflected soloing (and a hint of ragtime, too.)

But both Safirudin and Gorodi needed to be alert and adroit: improvisation is integral to his performances, but one sensed that there was more spontaneity to some of of Shaw’s vocal flights than is usually the case in a jazz gig, no doubt facilitated by singing to, rather than with the piano—a kind of ‘launch on warning.’  It was a delight to witness and to hear.

For all of his humour and musical gymnastics, Ian Shaw is a serious-minded artist, a full-on performer and a uniquely gifted vocalist. The kinds of passion that music can best express were there to be savoured—and we did.

© J. Whitman, 8th May 2016

Ian Shaw, 27th May at Wakefield Jazz

The Weave, 20 May 2016 at Wakefield Jazz

There can’t be many two-trumpet sextets in existence, but on this showing, it’s difficult to understand why. What could offer a brighter prospect than the brilliant, piercing qualities that only the trumpet can deliver–doubled–and configured in ways that are a treat for everyone with musical imagination, composers and listeners alike?
Add a top-flight and musically compatible rhythm section, and just about anything is possible.

This was good time music, though not in any superficial, ‘easy listening’ sense. No one could mistake the quality of the melodic invention and interplay of the two leads (Martin Smith and Anthony Peers on trumpets), or the keen and playful work of the rhythm section, but this was a wondrously upbeat, accessible, swinging performance.
No one needed to strain in order to feel the gravitational pull of New Orleans, or echoes of the blues and swing. And in some of the trumpet-piano exchanges, there was also the legacy of ragtime. Yet, the tunes were largely originals. For these musicians, the tradition amounts to inspiration, not homage.

Then again, there were passages during the two sets that seemed to come straight out of classic Blue Note recordings of the 1950s and 60s, much abetted by Tony Ormesher’s clean, rapid guitar lines. In fact, because the guitar can act as both a harmony and a melody instrument, the sound of the band was particularly full and rich.
The numbers allowed plenty of space for Rob Stringer (piano), Hugo Harrison (bass) and Tino Pirnbaum (drums) to solo, but these were substantial, well crafted numbers, so there was no extended soloing around the simple statement of a theme.

Perhaps inevitably, the trumpets stood out; and it was fascinating to hear how they configured their written lines and improvisations, but as the evening progressed, the full meaning of ‘weave’ became apparent: the interlacing of melodies and harmonies was conceived and performed with the entire band in mind. There were no abstract flights of fancy, no freak-out moments: for all that this was serious music, it never strayed from tuneful, playful and accessible. Even the number closest to New Orleans funeral procession music (begun most affectingly on muted trumpets) delivered us to something quite uplifting by the end. Any music that restores our sense of beauty is itself beautiful music. Thank you, Weave.

What’s on next at Wakefield Jazz

J. Whitman, 20th May 2016

The Weave, 20 May 2016 at Wakefield Jazz

The Lindsay Hannon Plus, 13 May 2016


This was wonderfully vibrant and robust music-making from start to finish—a real delight, in part because it was abundantly clear how much fun the band was having, even while they delivered a musically intense and highly varied programme.

Lindsay Hannon’s voice is strong and clear, and she is remarkable for her tonal modulation and stylistic adaptability. Choice of repertoire can be a stern test for a jazz vocalist: variety is welcome, but if much of the material is outside a singer’s main strengths, even the best instrumentalists will struggle to patch over weaknesses. There wasn’t a hint of this—and this in a programme that included Cole Porter, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell and some fresh takes on old classics—not least, ‘What a Little Moonlight Can Do.’ Sultry lows, joyous highs and everything lese in between: Lindsay Hannon not only had the vocal resources but also the deftness and timing to deploy them to fullest advantage. Perhaps the most remarkable number of the evening—and one that showed the subtlety of the band and how well integrated were the singer and musicians—was a striking performance of the seldom-performed ‘Miss Otis Regrets.’ Played with minimal, sensitive accompaniment, theirs was a heart-shredding performance.

This was not a singer + semi-detached trio, but a wonderfully coherent band—and every number demonstrated that in abundance. All three instrumentalists turned in stellar performances. James Harrison is a stunningly resourceful pianist. His ‘fast’—and even his fortissimo—was never furious: his lines were remarkably clean and well articulated, but perhaps the true measure of the depth of his skill was that he so keenly attuned and alert to opportunities to provide unexpected embellishments, accents and unexpected colours—most notable in his quieter accompaniments, but also even in the midst of the most startling of his solo flights. And throughout, he appeared so utterly relaxed it was possible to forget what skill and concentration were involved.

It is difficult to imagine a more suitable bass player for these proceedings; indeed, they would have had a wholly different character with anyone other than John Pope, whose playing was neatly poised between his virtuosic flights (including extended bow work) and his close and sensitive support for Lindsay Hannon. Russ Morgan provided complementary drumming, always apt to the needs of the tune; and his solo turn, at the end of the second set, demonstrated how much musical inventiveness he had at his disposal.

Lindsay Hannon’s presence was commanding without being overbearing; and her stagecraft—charming, but minimal—allowed the music to speak for her and for the band. Perhaps it could be bottled and distributed widely.

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We all have reasons aplenty to be grateful for a century of jazz recordings, but this gig was a vivid reminder that there is no substitute for live music and the pleasures of watching creative interaction, in the moment. Best of all, these splendid musicians had a particularly strong line in dissolving the boundaries between ‘at work’ and ‘at play.’

J. Whitman 14th May 2016 ©

The Lindsay Hannon Plus, 13 May 2016