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A Celebration of British Jazz, Ronnie Scott's | reviews, news & interviews

A Celebration of British Jazz, Ronnie Scott's

A Celebration of British Jazz, Ronnie Scott's

British jazzers wipe out a bad year for jazz with a brilliant New Year show

Intelligent, witty, joyous: Django Bates's Human ChainCourtesy of Jazz on 3

If times are hard for pop and classical music, for jazz – magazines going to the wall, broadsheet column inches telescoped to the point of near-oblivion, major labels ditching their jazz division – things were just that little bit harder. But a new year, a new decade, and all such introspective thoughts had to be temporarily put on hold for this one-night-only mini-festival of British jazz at Ronnie Scott's.

High-class improv, haunting ballads, powerfully emotive solos. And that was just the opening act.

Presented by Jez Nelson from a packed club, and kicking off with the Kenny Wheeler Quintet, the celebration featured exclusive performances by three generations of musicians. Wheeler, who celebrates his 80th birthday on 14 January with a special one-off concert at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and heard here in the company of Stan Sulzmann (sax), John Parricelli (guitar), Chris Laurence (bass) and Martin France (drums), demonstrated jazz chops that a player half his age would kill for.

Performing a single continuous set, young firebrands Troyka - Chris Montague (guitars and loops), Kit Downes (organ) and Joshua Blackmore (drums) - have been memorably described as "Mingus-meets-Motörhead". With seemingly endless twiddling of knobs and flicking of switches - at times it felt rather like a jazz-rock workout with an OU science boffin - the trio's filmic, jump-cutting juxtapositions referenced everything from sine tone bleeps to West African polyrhythms. When the big, anthemic riff finally arrived, it didn't disappoint.

After Troyka's guitar heroics, the purely a cappella opening number of Cleveland Watkiss's set provided the most beautiful way imaginable of cleansing the palate. Using loops to lay down a beguiling polyphonic web of interlocking vocal lines, Watkiss seemed to take us back to the very fons et origo of music: unadorned melody. It was a magical vignette, which the remainder of the set featuring bassist Mark Hodgson and drummer Winston Clifford never quite matched.

The still, minimalist set provided by Tom Arthurs (flugelhorn) and Richard Fairhurst (piano) proved something of a disappointment. Accompanied by Fairhurst's outer-spacious backdrops, Arthurs' modal journey made Kind Of Blue sound like Wagner. Compositionally it felt a little thin, more like sketches for pieces than fully worked out ideas. Perhaps that was the point, but it did seem to stretch out to the infinite, and not in a good way.

Is there anyone in jazz writing music that's as intelligent, witty, joyous or eclectic as Django Bates? Performing with a rhythm section he’s deeply familiar with, bassist Michael Mondesir and drummer Martin France (a valiant double shift following his earlier set with KW), plus new recruit Marius Neset on tenor sax, this version of Bates' "Human Chain" provided an invigorating assault on the senses. By turns florid, densely packed and slightly crazed, it brought proceedings to a magisterial close.

Listen to "A Celebration of British Jazz" on BBC iPlayer

The trio's filmic, jump-cutting juxtapositions referenced everything from sine tone bleeps to West African polyrhythms


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Great article Pete, it pops and fizzes just like the jazz.

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