Nigel Price Organ Quartet, 19th November 2016

The best small-group jazz always exhibits a tension between the strengths of the individual players and the group sound. Much of the power in this kind of music—and this was certainly a ‘power quartet’—comes as much from sensitivity and responsiveness as from instrumental virtuosity. But in the Nigel Price Organ Quartet, we had an abundance of both.  And while each of the instrumentalists was able to demonstrate varieties of finesse, melodic invention, rhythmic sophistication the finer points of phrasing, the music was largely propulsive, sharp-edged and truly exciting.

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Nearly every passage of Nigel Price’s guitar playing contained a surprising combination of techniques, matched by speed and fluency of execution:
rapid-fire chordal sequences,  harmonics, smeared notes, bluesy infections—all fit together seamlessly. Of course, he had solo turns—and his opening on ‘Body and Soul’  was a thing of beauty—but his presence and sound were always integral to the music, perhaps the clearest testament of each of the musicians’ commitment to the quartet’s sound. And the precision and clarity of his playing
meant that his exquisite phrasing could be savoured, even through the fastest runs.

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The tenor saxophone can be coaxed to melting notes, lower-register ‘mood music’ and forms of velvety smoothness. But no one who has heard Alex Garnett would expect anything other than an approach that can best be described as full-on: robust, driving and highly dynamic.  Yet in an evening that included a surprising variety of musical forms including samba and waltz, he was able to retain the energetic directness of his playing, astutely adapted to the demands of the music and to the other players.  Even after a blistering opener to the first set, it was clear that we would enjoy an entire evening of his wonderfully keen tone, whatever the pace. And his extended passages were thoughtfully constructed, too: a musician of this calibre is always alert, always thinking.
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Carlo De Wijs was on hand to restore everyone to the magic that can be conjured from the Hammond organ by a master musician. The second number of the evening was a samba—an open invitation to rhythmic invention, which Carlo met by a hand on each of the instrument’s two manifolds, his left foot carrying the bass line, right foot controlling the swell and occasional alterations in the ‘stops’ in order to alter the voice. It was amazing to witness as well as to hear; and on the number in question, Nigel Price’s guitar and Clark Tracey’s drumming combined with the the Hammond to deliver as much rhythmic complexity and harmonic depth as the samba is capable of carrying. Carlo made fine use of the organ’s range and adaptability (in this case, abetted by additional electronica) but  he was also superb in giving the hard-driving numbers the kind of forward motion that only a Hammond organ can provide.
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Clark Tracey is often described as the UK’s best ‘straight ahead’ drummer—and none would contest it but to suggest that it understates the breadth of his talent, honed by years of experience, a deep sense of swing and an unmatched understanding of the expressive possibilities of jazz drumming. Always powerful, never dominating: a musician’s musician.

Toward the end of the second set, the band brought onto the stage the young tenor player Nadim Teimoori who had so impressed in the support band earlier in the evening. What transpired—a thrilling 25 minute exchange—seemed to take the musicians themselves by surprise. Each player had ample opportunity to shine—and they did.  The saxophone exchanges were a marvel; and on completion of Carlo’s Hammond solo, the audience was left shouting. At the end, Nigel Price told us, ‘Well, we really don’t know how to follow that’—surely a fitting way of describing the entire gig.

J Whitman 19.11.2016

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