I tend not to hang around for private parties at the club – nothing to do with getting under people’s feet or through fear of being acknowledged as the uninvited intruder. It’s more to do with my suspicion that the music loses its edge – the whole art of the occasion feels and sounds too corporate for my ears. However, invited or not, I hanged around last night. Georgie Fame was hired for the entertainment and it seems to me he’s that big-a-name that it would’ve been silly not to pass up an opportunity to say “oh sure, I’ve seen him.”
‘E woz aaaalwiiite – good on the up-tempo rockabilly-blues numbers but I’d give the ballads a rest. To be fair, what do you expect? He is 68 after all! He still had that ol’ showman spark – witty one-liners in the vocal breaks, excellent storytelling intros – and his sound, subtle and delicate to driving and forceful in all the right places, was on the money. He was at his best when his role was purely textural, adding sheets of Hammond harmony to his dynamic ensemble.
The presence of a female vocalist of Claire Martin’s stature elevated the whole unit an extra notch – not even Ronnie’s had this ensemble! The brass duo of Guy Barker and Alan Skidmore was the main draw for me. Guy has a unique, quite dry sound, which is more Clifford than Miles – a much more fulfilling prospect to my ears – and his melodious solos were a melting pot of jazz trumpet history. His use of dynamics was a lesson in storytelling.
Skidmore is quite simply a powerhouse, who throws aside 16th note runs with effortless flair. Before the show he asked for a stool to rest on due to the metal in his legs, however any signs of old age were dissolved by his streams-of-consciousness tenor playing. The fact he’s a Coltrane disciple was obvious in his solos, yet it sounded specifically like the mid stage – ’58 to ’60 – of Coltrane’s fleeting career. His solos were a fusion of horizontal modal runs and lick based bop lines. Engrossing stuff.
Anthony Kerr was sublime on the vibes, a real master of his craft who hasn’t succumbed to the ethereal ECM-landscape of playing that many of his contemporaries have. His solos were physical affairs, lunging up and down the metallic keys with athletic flamboyance. Alec Dankworth was great, as always, but he only had one solo which is a real shame when he has so much to say. The Powell brothers – Georgie’s sons; Tristan on guitar and James on drums – were good value and had that telepathic communication you’d expect from brothers who have played all of their musical lives together. Tristan’s tone had a pop-rock feel and his soloing was a nice juxtaposition to the brass/vibe lines. James played in a scatty open style, and the looseness of such rhythms worked well with the rest of the band. Overall it was pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.