Pic by Pete Woodman
Chris Batchelor, trumpet
Liam Noble, piano/keyboards
James Allsopp, baritone sax and bass clarinet
Paul Clarvis, drums
You needn’t attend many jazz gigs before you’ll hear someone anxious to restore the music to its ‘true’ place. The line runs something like this: ‘The importance of innovation and the quality of the playing notwithstanding, it’s my settled belief that jazz that strays much beyond the Great American Songbook isn’t really jazz.’ Poor souls—but Pigfoot was on hand to deliver the miracle cure: their opening number was a medley of Mozart opera themes and Elvis Presley, played with as much jazz panache as you’ll hear on any rendering of ‘The Way You Look Tonight.’ Others will tell you that, these days, jazz is too ‘cerebral.’ But this performance was riotous fun—bold, brash, quite knowing in its novelties and excesses, irreverent but affectionate and full of the love of music, whatever its origins and history. By the end of the evening, there was no doubt that Elvis, Led Zepplin, James Brown and Wilson Pickett had all been inducted into the Great American Songbook, with Mozart and Richard Strauss long ensconced in its European counterpart. For improvising musicians the musical treasures of the world are there for discovery and further creative interpretation.
For all that the numbers were treated with a certain, shall we say, robust indelicacy, the playing was precise, nuanced and fascinating. Liam Noble’s keyboard facility is thrilling to watch as well as to listen to, not least his harmonic invention and his highly distinctive use of dissonances. He also made fine use of an electronic keyboard and because was able to deploy a ‘split’ keyboard, on some numbers he added a bass line which enriched the baritone harmonies, or allowed James Allsopp to join Chris Batchelor in melodic invention. Much was made of James’ low A on the baritone, but what was more remarkable was his ability to play clear, sustained altissimo notes—not often heard on a baritone. It was like watching someone walk on the ceiling.
Drummer Paul Clarvis was in charge of the Anarchy Department. In addition to drumming that kept the music in time but also imparted much of its off-kilter, wayward character, he was given to pauses and outbursts that were very funny—yet somehow, entirely fitting. At a few junctures, he appeared to be trying to false-foot Liam Noble. Good luck with that. Chris Batchelor’s command of the trumpet, his expressive use of a variety of mutes, the clarity and strength of his playing—all were to the fore. Here was a consummate musician, playing with precision while holding nothing back.
By the end of the evening, there wasn’t a boundary or border that hadn’t been traversed; and there were wall-to-wall smiles of delight.