Derek Nash Acoustic Quartet, 3 February 2016

It was a full house and then some—so the anticipation was keen; and it was electric from the off. Derek Nash began with playing of a passionate intensity that many an able player would hold back for the end of the set—and that was just the start. This was a Master Class in the saxophonist’s art; and for expressiveness, fluency and control, he could have filled the entire evening with any of his saxophones—baritone, tenor, alto or soprano. Plenty of sax players can play swift runs with a piercing tone, but even when he was blowing fit to turn himself inside out, Derek Nash always made the most of a song’s melodic possibilities: the intricacy of some of his improvisations, even in the midst of an intense round of soloing, were quite beautiful. He would come barreling out of a lengthy sustain as though it were a passing note, but could then swiftly turn it to something sweet and beguiling.

Of course, the combination of David Newton (piano), Geoff Gascoyne (bass) and Clark Tracey (drums) is a premier rhythm section—indeed, none better. And their interactions lifted this music above a soloist + rhythm section performance. It was fascinating to see and hear how well integrated the playing was—with plenty of opportunity for each to shine individually, but with some of the most affecting moments comprising close partnering between Derek Nash and one of the other players. David Newton was on splendid form across a dizzying range of styles; Geoff Gascoyne turned in some beautifully crafted solos; and Clark Tracey was as attentive, resourceful and inventive as ever.

There was nothing conventional about either set. At the opening of the second, Derek invited onto stage the entire support band in an inspired take on a New Orleans marching rhythm—a surprising and wonderful way to begin. And for each of the ballads, Derek chose instruments at the top and bottom of the register: baritone and soprano. His baritone playing was deep and soulful; the soprano playing sometimes plaintive and always poignant. But what marked the evening was the sheer power and vivacity of Derek’s playing. And for all of his visible, physical exuberance, his music-making is marked as much by precision and inventiveness as by sheer power. To have all of those qualities closely wedded together was a rare treat. Three cheers for his stagecraft, too.

When a band begins at full throttle, it’s reasonable to wonder how they could hope to sustain it across more than two hours. The question remains, because they did. In fact, it was easy to suppose that they might have carried on—and if they had, none of the wildly enthusiastic audience would have budged.

Derek Nash – saxes
David Newton – piano
Geoff Gascoyne – bass
Clark Tracey – drums

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