Sarah Sands, vocals and sax.
Sam Taylor, trumpet.
Jack O’Hanlon, guitar.
Fran Mills, bass.
Tom Hudson, drums.
Jazz funk passed by a certain segment of jazz listeners; and those unimpressed probably never saw a live performance by a capable band. The uninformed expectation would probably have been propulsive but relentless drumming;
rudimentary melodic lines and uninspired soloing. And then came Green Tangerines to give all of us a shock to the ears, a lift to the spirit and…well, a kick in the butt.
The only aspect of their two sets that was relentless was the sheer energy—considerably greater than what’s required for the rhythmic infectiousness that is at the heart of the genre. Tom Hudson played drums all evening at a level that many another would hold in reserve for a set piece solo. But his playing wasn’t once an act of detached grandstanding. For all that he was a marvel to see as well as to hear, he was completely devoted to the precision and coherence of the group sound. And in funk, that’s what matters—beneath the pleasing, compelling surface of the music, sustained concentration and coordination between the players cannot falter, so the rhythm section really does need to be ‘tight’—all the more when there’s no piano. Step forward Fran Mills on bass. Funk of a lesser pedigree can get by with unimaginative, routine bass lines, but jazz, even in its hybrid forms, cannot. Her playing not only kept the band together, but also complemented the jazz musicianship of the horns at every turn.
Sarah Sand’s opening notes on tenor were rather soft and tentative, but it soon became clear that this was just the opening of a slow, cumulative build-up to a group crescendo. But there was more in store: her playing was powerful—clear, rich, and full of expressive nuance. And although many of the numbers began with a simple melodic statement—often unison playing with trumpeter Sam Taylor—both of them were capable of spinning wonderful improvisations from such simple material. Sam came into his own on his solo turns in the second set; and one of the highlights of the evening was listening to Sarah duet with, and hold her own against, the drumming of Tom Hudson.
Jack O’Hanlon’s guitar playing was anything but the conventional funk role. Yes, he performed familiar rhythmic duties with assurance, but the band’s arrangements also gave him ample opportunity to demonstrate his rapid-fire melodic runs and careful use of pedals to provide effective tonal variation. At times reminiscent of Frank Zappa, it soon became clear that ‘jazz funk’ is an inadequate label, not only for his playing but also for the group as a whole.
For their combination of power, coherence and nuance, this is a band worth going out of your way to see.
What’s on Next?
Alison Rayner Quintet