Phil Robson – guitar
Jed Levy – saxophone
Oli Hayhurst – bass
Clarence Penn – drums
This was high-powered jazz, not by dint of frenetic pace, volume or assertiveness but by the beauty and coherence of the quartet sound that was at once polished but fresh and lively. That’s a difficult poise to strike, even for musicians as able as these, yet for all that they were fully engaged, each seemed entirely in his element.
Notably, the two front line instrumentalists, Phil Robson and Jed Levy never competed for the spotlight; this was a true musical partnership. Particularly in the first set, Jed’s long tenor lines—warm and cleanly articulated—were a perfect complement to Phil’s guitar lines. In two sets of their own compositions, each of the numbers had the kind of melodic attractiveness of jazz standards; and they provided ample space for both their own and the rhythm section’s inventiveness.
This was also an evening of understated musical touches and embellishments, from all of the players. Where many another guitarist might ‘comp’ through a fellow musician’s solo work, Phil’s harmonic tracery offered lovely, subtle support. Oli Hayhurst’s bass work reminded us that there’s more to virtuoso musicianship than advanced technique: it is, as they say, a thinking person’s game; and it was one of the pleasures of the evening to direct attention to his harmonic inventiveness even as the band was in full flow. And although the world is not short of gifted drummers, Clarence Penn has a voice all his own. Throughout his playing was never predictable, never what could be expected—and yet always entirely apt. There are certain drummers who, in their responsiveness to the band, prompt the audience to listen in an altered way, too—and Clarence Penn is certainly one such.
The second set was much punchier, releasing much of that coiled power that was so apparent through the first. This brought the full range of expressiveness from Phil Robson, whose charming, ‘liquid’ tone can quickly take on an edge. And of course, Jed Levy was with him at every turn, whether in parallel or meeting Phil’s lines from oblique angles. Each seemed to bring out the considerable best in the other. And with that Hayhurst-Penn rhythm behind them, an evening of first-rate jazz was promised from the start—and delivered to the last note.
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