In 1922, the composer Paul Hindemith attached an extraordinary marking to a movement of one of his sonatas for solo viola: ‘Raging tempo. Wild. Beauty of tone is of a secondary consideration.’ There was certainly nothing left to chance in the tone of Josh Kemp’s tenor playing, but it was hard to escape the feeling that Hindemith himself would have appreciated such committed, passionate playing, along the lines he had prescribed. After all, what counts as ‘wild’ in music requires refined technique and superb control—qualities that the Josh Kemp Organ Quartet had on full display, all evening.
In fact, it was the variety of tone deployed by Josh Kemp as much as its expressive qualities that was most impressive about his playing. With seeming effortlessness, he was able to switch from intricate, high-speed runs to rasping, bluesy set pieces and tender, soulful ballad playing. Though much of the music was exhilarating and fast-paced, both he and the band at large had a knack for investing something exhilarating in every number, whatever the tempo. And he might yet make a standard of his utterly remarkable blending of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ and ‘Straight, No Chaser.’
It is surely a testament to the skill and adaptability of jazz musicians at this level to be able to play a set list—and to improvise upon it—and short notice. On this particular evening, Josh Kemp’s usual band were indisposed, yet the three ‘deps’ played as though this was a working band of long standing. Pete Whitaker on Hammond Organ underpinned every number, since he provided the bass line as well as a good deal of the rhythmic and harmonic substance of each song—all, of course, while providing the kind of atmosphere that only good Hammond playing can invoke.
Martin Shaw favoured the flugelhorn over the trumpet, delivering a warm, almost buttery tone, which offered a tonal contrast to the Josh Kemp’s tenor, yet was always complementary. His own solo turns and melodic runs were no less fleet or musically pleasing than Josh Kemp’s. And Tim Giles propelled everything along—a very ‘up front’ drummer, but always supportive. In the last number of the second set, his New Orleans marching band patterns made for a rousing, dance-like finale to the evening.
Responding to the demands of the audience for an encore, the band sent us out into the night with something a bit less ‘raging and wild’—a gentle ballad which left everyone with a smile of satisfaction, but with a striking memory of something a good deal more powerful.
© J.Whitman, 26th November 2016