Review: Ronnie's piano festival
Review: BBC Young Musician Jazz Award
"3 Brave Souls" - John Beasley/Darryl Jones/Ndugu Chancler | Jazz Journal Record Review March 2013
What's Up" - Michael Camilo | Jazz Journal Record Review July 2013
Review: Wayne Henderson | Jazz Journal October 2013
This was the first of four nights for Wayne Henderson's Jazz Crusaders at Ronnie's, and before the funk started I was fortunate enough to catch the last few numbers of the support set by The Ronnie Scott's All Stars with vocalist Polly Gibbons. Listening to Gibbons, it crossed my mind more than once that she would be a welcome addition to the instrumental main act, particularly if Street Life reared its head later in the evening, and sure enough, later in the main set Henderson introduced both Street Life and Gibbons to the enthusiastic audience.
Simon Cooke introduced Henderson and Co with an implication that the "…serious stuff…" of last week (at Ronnie's) was over, and judging by Henderson's leopard-print apron that's would what you might expect, but there was no lack of serious musical intent from this fine outfit. On the funky opener Stomp And Buck Dance, keyboard player Bill Steinway, ironically on the house Yamaha grand and MOTIF keyboard on this occasion, pitched in with a promising, building solo using a pseudo Fender Rhodes/Wurlitzer piano sound, and during the course of the evening he seemed more effective on this (which suited the largely funky set) than the acoustic grand.
A great Crusaders-style arrangement of Three Blind Mice was next up, followed by arguably the highlight of the evening, an imaginative version of The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby. Electric bassist Derrick Murdock provided a subtle solo introduction, maintaining his concentration, despite his "battle" against a fit of hiccups in the audience. The original has an inherently modal flavour, and Henderson and Co took full advantage of this in their ensuing Coltrane-style interpretation, with arguably the best solo of the evening by guitarist Brian Price.
Paul Russo on tenor and occasional soprano sax was most effective on the overtly funky numbers that followed, including Street Life, where we were also treated to the vocals of the aforementioned Gibbons, who made a fine impromptu deputy for the legendary Randy Crawford, enjoying playful but powerful scatting later in the song, alongside exchanges with Russo. Drummer Tony Moore responded in style with his drum solo to Henderson's request to "chop wood" late in the set, and Henderson, having cued the band's activities throughout with his well-humoured verbal encouragement, rounded off the set with some rapping, before lowering the dynamic and finally introducing his band.
It's inevitable when hearing this material to yearn for the dulcet tones of Sample, Felder, and Carlton, and the great grooves of Stix Hooper, as that's how we heard it all originally, but that's not to take anything away from Henderson's current outfit, so go and hear them, and Polly Gibbons for that matter, whether together or separately.
Review: Kenny Garrett Quintet | Jazz Journal October 2013
Every few years, in almost Art Blakey-like fashion, Garrett seems to find a new crop of relatively young and often dazzling young musicians to carry the mantle, and his quintet line-up on Friday 11 October at Ronnie's was for the most part no exception. The only elder statesman on view apart from Garrett was ex-Miles percussionist Rudy Bird, who appears to good effect on Garrett's most recent albums, but the heart of the band on this occasion was drummer McClenty Hunter, who also appears on Garrett's most recent offering Pushing The World Away, where he shares the drum stool with Marcus Baylor and Mark Whitfield Jr., which unfortunately (with no offence intended towards the two other fine drummers) limits him to appearing on only four of the 12 tracks.
Vernell Brown shares the piano bench on the same album (also limited to appearing on four tracks) with the equally talented but perhaps more McCoyish Benito Gonzalez, Brown having previously had the bench to himself on Garrett's excellent Standard of Language from 2003.
However, at Ronnie's, after getting a chance to stretch out on the opener Boogety, Boogety and J.Mac from Garrett's Seeds From The Underground (2012), Brown seemed limited to stoking the raging fires for the remainder of the gig alongside the very well-suited rhythm pairing of Hunter and bassist Corcoran Holt, for Garrett's slow-burning, ominous, wailing solos, and explosive exchanges with Hunter.
Brown not only seemed squeezed out of the soloing duties for most of the gig, but also to some extent squeezed out of breathing space in the relentless grooves by the addition of Bird's percussion, which despite the sizeable percussion rig, was in effect more sight than sound, and apart from the opening and closing numbers was for the most part superfluous, particularly with a drummer as strong as Hunter dictating proceedings with his powerful and rhythmically complex stylings, appearing part Elvin Jones, part Omar Hakim, which in itself is a formidably rhythmic cocktail.
Most of the material came from Seeds From The Underground (which seems odd as Pushing The World Away has only just been released), with the addition of the title track from Happy People (2002) closing the gig in the now traditional Garrett-style call and response with the audience. Garrett used his preacher's hand to summon the rapturous congregation and they responded with singing, and dancing in the aisles. Garrett instigated more false endings than you could shake a stick at before delivering the last note and word of his sermon to thunderous applause.
Garrett is an eminent alto and soprano player, but more than that, he has become a truly great performer, and by the later stages of the gig, if not before, he had the audience in the palm of his hand.
Click any image below to download the full Michel Camilo article published in the June edition of Jazz Journal.
My previous attempt to see pianist/composer Michel Camilo with his Trio in April 2010 was foiled by a force of nature (the Icelandic ash cloud), but on Friday 10 May at 8.30pm at Ronnie Scott's I encountered a different force of nature, this time a musical one, in the shape of Camilo alongside drummer Cliff Almond and bassist Lincoln Goines.
On this occasion, Camilo's set (entirely of his own compositions except for Alfonsina Y El Mar by A. Ramirez) was drawn from three of his studio albums spanning over two decades (Mano A Mano from 2011, Spirit Of The Moment from 2007, and On Fire from 1989), but it focused mainly on material from the more recent of these together with See You Later which was commissioned for and first performed at the 2002 San Francisco Jazz Festival, and appeared on his 2003 Live At The Blue Note album.
This was the first time that I'd heard Camilo on a club date, having previously enjoyed the BBC Proms UK premiere of his Concerto For Piano And Orchestra in 2001 at the Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. What was striking at Ronnie's on Friday, despite the small-group context, was the often orchestral sound of his trio, and the huge dynamic range achieved from extremely delicate piano solo introductions through to the musical fireworks of the exchanges between Camilo and Almond that punctuated this memorable set. Rarely have I heard Ronnie's so quiet during piano introductions, with the nature of Camilo's performance demanding the attention of the audience.
There's an element of performance drama about Camilo's part-functional mopping of his brow with one hand and playing the keyboard with the other during solo piano introductions, as if he were an operatic tenor recovering from a physically and mentally demanding period of singing during orchestral interludes. It's really all part of the show from someone who with great success brings the performance demeanour of the classical concert hall to the jazz club. This was an intense, relentless and physically demanding performance of some 85 minutes which the trio were to simulate later that evening. Given the demanding nature of his compositions and jazz piano style, it says much of Camilo that he has the pianistic stamina (born of a formidable technique) to sustain this level of intensity for so long.
The set opened with a recent Camilo composition Yes, an up-tempo Latin number that ended with a quote of the closing phrase from Ellington's Take The A Train, followed by the first of a number of beautifully impressionistic and reflective piano introductions, this time leading into My Secret Place with lyrical and expressive bowed bass from Goines, and closing with rhapsodic piano. Almond's explosive drum solo introduction then took us into the minor blues-orientated Repercussions, where an instance of the aforementioned orchestral fireworks between Camilo and Almond virtually shook the room. Besides a standing ovation at the end, there was also time in this set of nicely varied material (with continuity) for Camilo's trademark high-speed squeaky-clean octaves, montunos, modal Tyneresque outbursts, and the occasional tremelando, together with a brief venture into the edge of atonality, and finally a blistering cadenza towards the end of the tumultuous closer On Fire. This was a most desirable musical force of nature.
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