Live Review: Duncan Eagles’ Citizen

New Generation Jazz: Duncan Eagles’ Citizen
The Verdict, Brighton
Friday 29th March, 2019

Tenor saxophonist Duncan Eagles concluded his whirlwind UK tour with a trip to Brighton’s Verdict Jazz Club at the end of March. His recently released debut album as a leader, Citizen has been highly acclaimed and helped in bringing the former Partikel front man to an even wider audience. The saxophonist was well supported by his current working line up of Dave Preston (guitar), Max Luthert (bass), and Dave Storey (drums).

A graduate of Trinity Laban in 2007, Duncan Eagles is also a fine composer and educator whose self- confessed early inspiration was the music of John Coltrane, particularly the albums My Favourite Things and almost inevitably Blue Train. Although by no means a copyist, he has a full-on dry tone, has melody at the centre of all his compositions, and is a very inventive improviser, just like the master himself. Fresh from two nights at Ronnie Scott’s and supporting Joshua Redman’s super group at The Barbican, the band were in fine form in front of a packed and enthusiastic Verdict crowd. With no pianist on this occasion there was even more room than normal for the band to creatively stretch out over two hour-long sets of cutting edge contemporary jazz.

The Brexit blues were soon blown away by the opener Shimmer with the ethereal sound of the leader’s tenor demanding attention, with the overall sound of the band being driven along creatively by Dave Storey’s imaginative drumming. Such is the melodic majesty of the leader’s writing that it seems that every number feels like a standard that you have heard many times before, so it was with the ballad Lanterns, a four-way musical conversation with Dave Preston’s hypnotic dance-like lines to the fore.

It is easy to see, with this guitarist’s dazzling technique, why he has been so successful with musical partners
so diverse as Melody Gardot and bassist Peter Ind. After a frantic, high powered tour de force from the tenor on
The Path Is Narrow, alongside complementary lines on guitar that John Scofield would have been proud of, it was time for one of the evening’s highlights, the wonderful Conquestor from the band’s recent album. This was a very calming extended piece with a truly superb opening introduction by bassist Max Luthert whose full and resonant tone held the crowd in awe, before the leader’s succulent tenor interlude gave way to an inspired exchange of ideas between guitar
and the excellent mallet work of Dave Storey. The set closed with a masterful feature for Dave Preston
on
92 Days followed by the most complex tune of the evening, the title track to Citizen with its collective high energy approach of roaring tenor, dazzling guitar runs and polyrhythmic drumming.

It had been obvious from the beginning that this is a band where the players are always listening to and responding to each others ideas, it was never more so than on the set two opener Folk Song, another gem from their recent recording with thoughtful interplay producing a kaleidoscope of sound throughout the group. There was always something fresh to hold the attention throughout, with twists and turns on every corner such as an almost orchestral sound created by the guitar and horn interplay on Midnight Mass, another album highlight. It had become obvious that Duncan Eagles is a player comfortable at all tempos, cool and searching on ballads but with a Coltrane-like urgency at the very highest of tempos, such as that created on Round Table, again driven along by powerful encouragement from the drum chair. It is always a joy to hear an interpretation of one of the great jazz standards even in the most contemporary of settings, and so it proved to be on the Guy Wood and Robert Mellin classic from 1952 My One And Only Love. This was played almost straight for the most part by the leader, bringing to life this most engaging of melodies, his opening solo being answered in kind by laconic laid-back guitar, before a revisit to add his own embellishments to the theme. All good things must come to an end, as this fine gig did with the medium tempo Cascade which proved to be a ideal improvising vehicle for all, and sent a very satisfied Verdict audience out into the starry Brighton night.

You can catch drummer Dave Storey with his own trio at The Verdict on Friday 31st May (2019) and Duncan Eagles’ full band on the Arena Stage at The Love Supreme Festival on Saturday 6th July, 2019.

Jim Burlong

(Photo by Anya Arnold)