You could feel the heat. And the exhilaration. And the sheer rhythmic energy generated by Django Bates ’ band Human Chain in their second number at Ronnie Scott’s last night, called ‘Three Architects Called Gabrielle… Just What I expected’
Human Chain were the fifth band of the night at the BBC’s Jazz on 3 Celebration of British Jazz. The programme went out at 11.15 last night and is available on BBC iPlayer until next Monday January 11th.
The evening worked, not just as a start-of-year celebration, but also as a sampler of the breadth and the depth of talent in the UK jazz scene. Whether referring to the individual acts or to the whole evening, people were coming up to me and talking about the variety, the range of expression they had experienced. Who knows, there might even have been something there for those British who just don’t get it, can’t see anything to celebrate in jazz, and (still) claim to hate all of it. Dontcha love ‘em.
The evening opened with Kenny Wheeler ’s quintet. The great man turns 80 next Thursday 14th , and the event is due to be celebrated at the Royal Academy of Music, with no less a figure than Dave Holland flying over and donating his services. The quintet with Stan Sulzmann, John Parricelli, Chris Laurence and Martin France opened with the deliciously shifting harmonies of Jigsaw and ended with a particularly happy and uptempo Everyone’s Song but my Own.
The youngest band of the evening was Troyka , Chris Montague ’s trio with Kit Downes on Hammond and Josh Blackmore on drums. Their short set built to a final climax with a sequence which started with the polite exchange of eerie clicks and pops, grew through quick joshing interplay, and built into an exchange of angry semitone clusters. I sensed an audience intrigued, but absolutely hooked by the twists and turns of this musical conversation.
Vocalist Cleveland Watkiss, bassist Mark Hodgson and drummer Winston Clifford are all musicians in their absolute prime. Watkiss started his set with a vocal bass line which got looped and formed the foundation for a wordless multi-tracked solo performance, with beat-boxed consonants and a beautifully controlled final fade. I also enjoyed his take on Faure’s Sicilienne, gently phrased and lyrical.
The quietest set came from Tom Arthurs on flugelhon with regular duo partner Richard Fairhurst on piano. They were finding a delicate language on the boundaries of silence, sometimes just enjoying the rocking back and forth of two chords. There were clear homages in Arthurs’ playing to the harmonic delicacy, the sound and the presence of Kenny Wheeler. But Arthurs’ is his own man, and this gentle music caught the audience’s mood well.
Getting five bands on and off stage in the evening was a feat of organization and collaboration, as was editing the performance down for broadcast not much more than an hour afterwards. MC Jez Nelson managed proceedings and a couple of interviews well- but I will confess I’ve now already heard the word “edgy” enough for this year.
The radio sound which I caught later is excellent, more than a memento of a very good evening. Go listen.