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Review: Concert dedicated to Jeff Clyne

Guildhall School Jazz Tutors Concert
(First night of the GSMD Annual Jazz Festival, Concert Hall, GSMD, Silk Street EC2, March 22nd 2010)

Bassist Jeff Clyne, who died unexpectedly four months ago, had played in last year’s edition of the Guildhall jazz tutors’ concert. So it was a fitting gesture to open this year’s week-long jazz festival at the Guildhall School with a concert given by many of the same personnel, and dedicated to his memory.

The rest of the week’s festival looks very promising too, building to a finale on Friday with music for big band by Mark Lockheart from the CD Days Like These, most of it being given its UK premiere performance.

The British jazz community has felt a deep sense of loss in the past few months since Clyne’s death. Nobody could express this sentiment better than Clyne’s close friend and colleague, drummer Trevor Tomkins, who spoke, after the interval of last night’s concert. He singled out Clyne’s ability to “play anything,” from free jazz to fusion to straightahead, and his total commitment to whatever music he was playing. He also referred to Clyne’s modesty, and that he was invariably his own sternest critic. This speech can’t have been easy for Tomkins to do. He delivered it briefly, thoughtfully and with touching sincerity. It was very moving to hear.

The tutor band also paid tribute to Clyne through music. Carlos Lopez-Real had done two realisations of tunes by Clyne, written for the fusion band Turning Point. The first of these, Mirror, Mirror started with an extended electric bass feature, with Geoff Gascoyne bringing out every twist and turn, and producing a strong rich tone, a true homage. The tune had both of the singers – Brigitte Beraha and Lee Gibson – producing stabbed notes way up in D trumpet territory. Jean Toussaint played a solo with style and swagger, and Malcolm Edmonstone on keyboard received loud applause for a keyboard solo with vertiginous runs and scooped and bent high notes. The audience lapped the whole thing up and were in a mood for more. The second Clyne composition was Silent Promise, with strong solos from Carlos Lopez-Real and guitarist John Parricelli, and a perfect fade to nothing at the end from Trevor Tomkins.

By contrast Brigitte Beraha‘s quiet song Sometime gathered no more than a polite ripple of applause, as if the audience had been wrong-footed by it. I thought it deserved more, and would love to hear it again. Harmonically it travels interestingly, producing delicious passing clashes for the voice with a trumpet part, eloquently played by Nick Smart. There are echoes of both Joni Mitchell and North Africa in this touching and intriguing song.

I was impressed by Martin Hathaway‘s inventive alto saxophone playing, but disappointed with his compering, which could have done with more forethought. This didn’t, however, spoil an evening with purpose which also brought some more pleasant surprises. For example, a guest who had been watching in the shadows was introduced onstage near to the end . Saxophonist Dave Liebman, on his first day over from the US, launched into Bronislaw Kaper’s Invitation with huge and beguiling energy. This performance grew in intensity, and Liebman’s traded fours with drummer Andrew Bain had unstinting ferocity.

The evening ended with the entire cast soloing over the blues form on Straight no Chaser. Trumpeter Steve Fishwick and trombonist Malcolm Earle Smith earned their warm applause. The singers tested out each other’s vocal ranges, the keyboard players – Edmonstone and Pete Saberton – chased each other at huge speed, and Steve Watts on double bass played with a warmth and a clarity which summoned memories of the evening’s admired, loved, and now much-missed dedicatee.

The remainder of the week’s programme is HERE. All events are FREE.

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