Jack Kendon Quintet + Alex Garnett’s Bunch of Fives
South Coast Jazz Festival
Ropetackle Centre, Shoreham
Thursday 21st January
Amidst gloomy economic predictions for 2016 and a continuing squeeze on spending for the Arts, it’s very heartening to be back in Shoreham’s Ropetackle Centre for the return of the South Coast Jazz Festival. Festival Director and eminent Loose Tube reedsman Julian Nicholas is on hand to welcome the capacity crowd and introduce the first act. In line with the festival’s stated aim to foster the South Coast jazz community, the Jack Kendon Quintet is drawn from the local talent pool; they take to the stage looking impressively well-groomed for the occasion.
The set opens with pianist Al Scott’s composition Insomnia. The unusual frontline matches Kendon’s agile trumpet with Imogen Ryall’s wordless vocals, stating the theme before Scott delivers a superbly creative solo, projected with crystal clarity by a sympathetic sound mix. Old chestnut Night And Day is re-invigorated by Kendon’s super-hip, swinging arrangement that is a perfect match for Ryall’s warm, unaffected delivery. Peter Adam Hill on drums impresses with his effortless, forward-looking creativity, matched with good taste, an adventurous musicality and a flawless groove – definitely a player to watch out for. Carla Bley’s Lawns is his choice, with a lyric specially written by Ryall. Her vocal is cool and clear and Scott’s solo matches the mood perfectly.
Nicholas joins the band for his own composition, One January Morning , with another lyric by Ryall inspired by the ‘strangely comforting but also quite graphically unpleasant’ world of Nordic TV crime dramas. He reminds us what an individual voice he is on tenor, and bassist Nigel Thomas’ solo is a perfectly formed miniature of melodic construction. There Will Be Time is a specially commissioned waltz-time composition from Kendon which shows off his beautiful tone on flugelhorn and allows him to flex his highly melodic post-bop chops. The set’s closer is also the highlight – a version of Larry Golding’s Mixed Messages, a slinky, blues-inflected swinger that is perfectly suited to it’s re-invention as a showcase for Ryall’s vocalese workout, which manages to be impressive, engaging and wryly comical all at once. Nicholas’ smooth, husky-toned tenor flurries evoke unexpected comparisons with underrated player Benny Golson, and Kendon soars on trumpet. The mood onstage seem focussed but relaxed – with much of the material at the contemplative, ethereal end of the spectrum, it’s good to hear them dig into a harder swing. It’s a great start to the evening and the audience eat it up.
As the name suggests, harder swing is what Alex Garnett’s Bunch Of Fives specialise in. They’re touring material from his latest album; tonight sees Andrew Bain on drums replacing James Maddren, and Brandon Allen completing the muscular two-tenor line-up. Garnett is an artist in full command of his metier; his skills as a raconteur and all-round genial host in no way undermine the serious intent behind the playing. Michael Janisch’s loud, confident bass anchors the band, at once infinitely flexible and utterly rock solid; his virtuosic solo feature eschews any conventional bop language. Liam Noble on piano demonstrates his idionsyncratic versatility, switching from intense abstractions into swinging blues licks, and unique two-handed fugues that sound like a blend between Monk and J.S.Bach. Title track Andromeda shows off the superlative rhythm section, in a closely written arrangement that inspires the two tenors into some incendiary trades. Her Tears is in a classic 60s Blue Note mould – declamatory, impressive; the sheer quality of the playing reinvigorates the formula. They finish with an arrangement of Early Autumn in tribute to Stan Getz, though both Garnett and Allen deploy a hoarser, more urgent tone than the master, to compelling effect.
The festival’s co-director Claire Martin is on hand to wrap up the evening. Garnett, shedding his trademark self-deprecating humour, eulogises the event as ‘a pearl in a sea of mediocrity’. It’s a heartfelt tribute from a great band, and a fitting end to a successful first night.
Photo: Lisa Wormsley