Chris Batchelor’s Zoetic.  10th June 2022

Chris Batchelor, trumpet.
Margrit Hasler, viola.
John Parricelli, guitar.
Steve Watts, bass.
Paul Clarvis, table and percussion.

There are many ways of expressing power in music—and these days, there’s no shortage of ‘fast and furious’. But good writing and deft musicianship combine economy of effort with something rather special: revealing the power of beauty. It’s soon gone on the air, as all live music is, but something endures, visible in the smiling faces of the audience. What a fine band this is: musicians with a gift to impart—and they did. 

Those familiar with Chris Batchelor’s band Pigfoot might have expected music that edges up to the raucous and even anarchic, always with a touch of knowing humour. This band showcased an entirely different aspect of his musical character—lovely songs, nearly all his own compositions—and a band wholly in synch with his intentions and with each other.  His trademark expressiveness and clarity were all in place, but this was more midsummer night’s dream than ‘blast ‘em in the back row’. One hesitates to use the term ‘chamber jazz’ for the ballads, but those numbers created an atmosphere of hushed intimacy, so it seems apt. But we weren’t being lulled either, when John Parricelli cranked up his guitar we had some idea of his own range and expressiveness on quite a thrilling fast-paced number. But it was his sensitivity and understated elegance that really stood out. No grandstanding in this band: just beautifully measured ensemble performances.

Jazz ensembles without piano no longer present as ‘the shock of the new’, but they are always a musical challenge: how to propel melodies forward without the rhythm sagging. What for others would have been a vulnerability, Zoetic converted into a considerable strength. In any configuration, Steve Watts and Paul Clarvis will always shine, but here in combination, they were outstanding. Steve’s warm, resonant bass notes were especially compelling in the spaces opened up in the slow ballads—but he was no less impressive in the up-tempo numbers. Paul played a variety of hand drums and percussion—often doubling or switching mid-song as the shifts in the music allowed. His rhythmic sophistication, impeccable timing and good taste were a consistent pleasure and integral to the group sound. Unusual time signatures and hints of other musical cultures—Arabic, Celtic, a pinch of Americana and others—were all in an evening’s work 

Margrit Hasler’s viola had many roles—doubling Chris’s melody lines—and some of Steve Watts; melodic embellishments; providing something close to a drone beneath the trumpet; and—though the viola is a little less fleet than the violin, thrilling us all with some fleet-fiddle bowing. It was a distinct pleasure to hear the harmonies as trumpet and viola combined; and especially in the lower registers, the viola lent a poignant, somewhat elegiac quality to the ballads. 

This was the last gig of the season for Wakefield Jazz and it was an utter delight. It was also perfect music for a summer’s evening, the individual numbers and the gig in its entirety ending with lovely resolution.


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