Review. Vic Ash / Simon Spillett Quintet.
(Concorde Club , Eastleigh. August 12th 2009.)
Last night at the Concorde Club in Eastleigh they seemed very relaxed. The club has just got national recognition a few days ago through winning Brecon’s (kind of) Blue Plaque as jazz venue of the year. But nobody saw fit to mention it all evening.
After 52 years of promoting jazz, a club like this can take most things in its stride. The sizeable regular audience knows the drill. People get comfortably settled into their comfortable chairs. Listeners arrive for the music which starts quite late: 9pm. And they quietly disperse at 11.30pm when it ends. The atmosphere brought back memories of some of the best clubs in the US. Jazz Alley in Seattle, or Yoshi’s in Oakland. But the Concorde with it’s low ceiling is …..cosier.
Featured artist last night was the 79-year old Vic Ash. He’s playing a few gigs before his 80th birthday in March. And he’s playing a few gigs after it. But he’ll be celebrating the birthday itself quietly…
Ash was playing tenor and clarinet last night in a pairing with his former pupil Simon Spillett. Ash looks like a diminutive scrum half (George Gregan?) alongside Spillett whose natural place would be in the second row (Martin Johnson?). Their platform manners and musical styles are contrasted too. Ash plays with astonishing economy of movement. The patter and the playing are laconic, oblique. They give you the sense that he knows a lot more than he’s prepared to divulge. The highlight of the evening for me was his second half clarinet feature. He introduced it thus.
“We’ve had a request for Johnny Mandel’s The Shadow of Your Smile…. I hope I can remember how to play it…. It’s from a film, ‘The Sandpiper.‘ or was it ‘The Sandpaper?’
Ash then played the melody beautifully. He has a lovely sound in the throat register of the clarinet. He unravels patterns gently, in manner reminiscent of the cooler side of Buddy de Franco. Very, very nice that. And you will never see a tinier, more subtle movement of the head on a bandstand than that which Ash gave his rhythm section colleagues to bring them back in after his closing cadenza. But that minimalist nod is all that seasoned pros like John Critchinson on piano, Alec Dankworth on bass, and Martin Drew at the kit need. They landed perfectly on the sixpence.
I find John Critchinson a wonderfully melodic pianist. Somehow I can only ever get pleasure from his playing. But unlike some commentators, that’s something I find I don’t ever have it in my heart to complain about. He holds my attention with the constantly unfolding line, the strong forward movement, the constant element of surprise. I never feel short-changed.
Simon Spillett is a big character. He settled down gradually and mellowed during the course of the evening. Some of the later solos saw him helping the listener gently into the water rather than launching himself straight into the deep end. Best for me was a gentle second half solo on I’m glad there is you , on soprano, which reminded me of Zoot Sims.
For West Londoners with a car, Eastleigh really isn’t far. My sober friend who used to be in the drinks industry kindly drove me down to the club in about an hour. It’s a few hundred yards from Junction 5 of the M27. And there’s a very warm welcome when you get there.