Alison Rayner Quintet, 29 October 2021

Alison Rayner, bass.
Diane McLoughlin, saxophones.
Deirdre Cartwright, guitar.
Steve Lodder, piano.
Buster Birch, drums.

There is a certain magic to some jazz performances which can’t entirely be put down to some combination of instrumental mastery, strong material and the coherence of the players as a fully realised band. For reasons never entirely clear, the band begins playing in an elevated way, much as though they’ve caught a wave and are determined to ride it. The music becomes just that bit more intense, perhaps a little faster; there’s more risk-taking; and the musicians themselves seem amazed, on the verge of laughter. The audience gets caught up in it too, creating a positive feedback loop. And that fairly describes the entire second set of the Alison Rayner Quintet at Wakefield Jazz this week.

Each of the musicians was on sparkling form, turning in performances that were both powerful and utterly fitting to the material. Drawing from their most recent album—and featuring numbers by Diane, Deidre and Steve as well from Alison herself—the music was direct, accessible and highly adaptable for their creative improvisations. It was Deidre Cartwright’s ‘Live Life Wide’ that kicked off the thrilling intensification of the music, which lasted across the remainder of the set. The band was in a special groove—and they knew it.

Diane McLaughlin’s incisive tenor ranged from tender to full-throttle extended technique; and her soprano playing added a degree of poignancy to many of the numbers. Steve Lodder put in two riveting piano solos—the first, alone while the band stood back, seemed to invoke a good portion of jazz piano history, which he somehow managed to make utterly fitting to the song. Deidre Cartwright exploited quite an expressive range on her guitar, from a surprising imitation of didgeridoo to rock star fireworks. But as a member of a very tight, coherent band, she was always attuned to the overall sound—and she had the resourcefulness to deliver. Buster Birch on drums seemed to be having a wonderful time of it, relaxed and happy even through his splendid drum solos. And leading everything from either her upright or acoustic bass, Alison Rayner was a commanding presence, her song writing and instrumentalism providing the principal underpinning for the entire evening.

Early on, Alison said how pleased and relieved they are to be playing once again in front of live audiences after the privations of the last eighteen months—and they all played as though with pent up energy and freshly-released creative expressiveness. This is a first-rate band on top form.

What’s on Next? The Clark Tracey Sextet


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