Vocalist Theo Jackson leads his band from the piano, with a confidence and assurance that comes from being a true musician, and the trust and knowledge that the other guys on the stand are too. He is the first to applaud (well, his hands are occupied on the keys so by ‘applaud’ I mean ‘acknowledge by exclaiming’) altoist Nathaniel Facey’s solo. These guys gel together well. It may be a young band – it was in fact Theo’s 25th birthday, and the rest of the band range from 24-29 – but there is maturity in their grooves and in their respect and understanding of each other.
Unfortunately, Theo was clearly struggling with some of the high notes – perhaps the remnants of a winter cold playing havoc with his performance. Nevertheless, where he’s let down in power and range, he more than makes up for in tone and vocal dexterity. He’s got a beautiful voice. It’s well-controlled with a casual jazz vibrato, and a pop-y flexibility. It’s a satisfying sound.
Theo is clearly a talented writer and instrumentalist, as well as musician and performer. However, not one of the tunes is arranged to exploit the instruments at his disposal which I feel is a wasted opportunity.
The highlight of the first set for me was Charlie Parker’s Confirmation. Not necessarily for the vocal – a charming delivery but not accurate enough in diction or intonation to be convincing (although saved once again by that gorgeous tone shining through). No, this is where the band went to town.
Guitarist Jamie McCredie was a most thrilling soloist. I wish he’d had a mic to capture his singing, as it certainly looked like he was scatting along perfectly to his own solo. Nathaniel Facey proved exactly why he was the worthy recipient of the Worshipful Company of Musicians Young Jazz Musician’s prize a few months prior. And let’s not forget Theo Jackson at the piano. He modestly tells me that he’s not a pianist. But his well-worked solos develop logically, being both thoughtfully-crafted and dexterously-impressive, and above all making sense, without resorting to flashy finger-wiggling.
During this tune they traded 8s between instruments which was great fun. The only thing lacking was the tremendous applause for a stunning drum solo which Jason Reeve had worked hard for and would have deserved.
I introduced myself to Theo during the interval and it was clear that he had actually lost his voice. He didn’t complain to the crowd about it – the only reference while singing was during Devil May Care where a growling voice finished off this 1950s bop standard with all the gruffness of a 90s rocker. “I’m quite enjoying this raspy thing,” he said before singing the last 2 bars. That’s a pro at work!
Drummer Jason Reeve really shone in this tune too, echoing licks and responding musically to the soloists as well as exploring the whole kit and a range of styles in his own too-short solo.
Other memorable moments were You Saved Me, a lilting 5/4 giving bassist Philipp Moll a chance to weave a lyrical solo. He’s been impressive throughout. Tired drew its inspiration from a hopeless teenage crush on a music teacher, and Pat Metheny’s Minuano allowed this band to exploit the groove that is clearly their forte. A brave encore finished the night off well.
I can’t wait for the full-throated show, to see what Theo Jackson is really capable of.