Review: Matt Halsall ‘/ Orphy Robinson’s Codefive

Matt Hallsall Group. (Left to right:Gordon Wedderburn, Alfonso Ambles, Rachael Gladwin, Gavin Barras, Matthew Halsall, Taz Modi, Nat Birchall, Luke Flowers)
Photo credit: Roger Thomas 

Matt Halsall Group/ Orphy Robinson’s Codefive
(Ronnie Scott’s, August 8th 2011. Review by Roger Thomas)

A major power cut left most of Soho without electricity the entire Monday evening. The sold-out BRITJAZZ event hosting a resilient Orphy Robinson – Codefive and Matt Halsall’s Tribute To John & Alice Coltrane, rose to the challenge and performed acoustically by candlelight, which must be a first for Ronnie Scott’s.

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With judicious placing of candles Matt Halsall and his band just went for it from the start, as if it were any other gig. Starting with Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey In Satchidananda,’ thecalmness drew you in. ‘A Love Supreme’ featured Nat Birchall, the arrangement plumbing the depths and the passions of Coltrane. Arco bass with glissando harp paved a way for Birchall’s Eastern soprano tones on ‘Blue Nile’. The mystical theme advances when Matt takes the head of ‘Samatha’ an original composition. Throughout, the piano carves definitive lines with a creative complement of percussive sounds from Luke Flowers. It was business as usual, but, before the last number, ‘The Journey Home’ Matt did admit to the audience that the whole evening had been a very unusual experience for them all.

Still without power Orphy Robinson’s Codefive kicked off the next set. The original composition ‘Yeh’ opened with Jean Toussaint’s tenor and Dudley Phillips’ bass. Played as if the two were taking a cool stroll, Orphy’s vibraphone solo entered the fray, injected a whole new energy, ratcheted up the temperature in the house by degrees.

With the audience seemingly acclimatised to the environment the dissonant piano lines of ‘Big Foot’ sounding like a calypso steel pan with the bass subtly throbbing a steady—almost Jamaican dance hall—pulse you could see gentle body movements from the audience. With some bebop references from vibes and saxophone the ingenuity of the composition brought a smile to my face.

The ingenuity continued when ‘Step In 2’ segued into ‘Sweet One For Two’ with it’s palette of staccato piano phrases and sweeping arpeggios from the vibraphone to a dark arco bass and piano duet, influences of a Bach prelude appear as saxophone, piano and vibraphone create a contrapuntal playground of phrases marshalled by Dudley’s bass and a defining swing from the drums.

Also impressive was, although positioned in the darkest corner of the stage Orphy could play with four mallets and with such precision. This performance was definite testament to seasoned musicianship.

Rounding off the evening guest singer Chantelle Nandi sang ‘Mellow Dilemma’ and ‘Soledo Tassi’. Nandi was all the more impressive for having no microphone or artificial reverb to assist her.

The evening was true testament to the ability of acoustic jazz not to disappoint. Had a rock band been booked the night of a power cut, and the show would most definitely not have gone on!


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6 replies »

  1. I couldn't agree more with this review.I was fortunate to see a few different nights during the festival, However my personal highlight was the Vibraphonist Orphy Robinson's set, it really was one of the best evenings in the festival.
    What an incredible musician and the rest of the band were superb definitely a highlight! This is such a refreshingly different sound on the British scene right now where a large number of the bands and Journalist seem to prefer listening to music leaning more to a whimsical Classical music approach or a kind of Music school cool that leaves me cold. At last here is something completely different Listening to Robinson leading on marimba is a revelation, Jean Toussaint's Tenor sound & lines were a delight throughout! Pat Thomas the pianist who normally performs more on the Avant garde scene was awesome, I didn't know he played in this area of music and no wonder musicians like Django Bates and Robert Mitchell rate him so highly. Question is how comes this band has not been invited to play more In London? What Jazz Politics are at work this time? I say this because looking at the Press and the Ronnies website leading up to the festival the discovery of Robinson's appearance was like a hidden gem.
    I understood from Ronnie's that Robinson would be on first as someone there had also strangely made the decision that Matt Halsall's band were to be the headline act? Fortunately common sense prevailed and that was not the case on the night as it really was obvious to all those in attendance that the right Artist was on last!!Let's hope we can see more of this outstanding group soon.

  2. “Anonymous” gives an interesting if somewhat biased view of the night's music. As someone who was there I can testify that Matthew Halsall's band more than equalled the playing of Orphy Robinson's band. The matter of who went on first is irrelevant. I understand also that Halsall had more tunes to play but because of the slightly delayed start, due to the power cut, he wasn't able to play his full set. A fact only made clear to him when someone walked on stage just as he had finished a tune to announce the end of the set. I can't see any reason why he wasn't allowed to play longer but there you go. Both bands rose to the occasion and played wonderfully.

  3. This post taken from my FB page (below) i'm shaw will explain the BS going on @ RS and London.

    “I generally like to keep my personal views private for most part but I feel very much inclined to say something here..and I actually don't care who reads this. this is my opinion and my experience. As a black musician born in London, learning to play and coming up in the mid-80's.

    I found that the world famous Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club never welcomed UK black musicians then and not now! Them people were not ever nice to us, at all! No manager, no doorman. I wont name names but they weren't very nice people. To us at least! And it didn't matter whether we were on the guest list, a musician, a friend of performing musician playing there, or a musician that has played there before (for black UK musicians, this is rare now and was even more a rare occurrence back then!)

    I know many people, jazz lovers and musicians alike, that will never go and spend their money there because of the unwelcoming atmosphere! The people that work there now are pretty much the same as the old staff . The only other difference, than like Kelly said, some of them wear skirts, is that the current staff wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Ron Carter and Ronnie Biggs Or Kenny Barron or Ken Dodd! And the sad thing is… They actually don't care! The only great thing I can say that I've got to meet and hear some great musicians there, some who have become life long friends!…..

    Further perpetuated by the VERY white Late Show! I'm sorry but it's the truth! Black musicians and just musicians in general..would support The Late Show and the venue more, if they felt more welcome there!
    by: Trevor Watkis

  4. As someone who also attended the gig at Ronnie's on August 8th, I am afraid I have to disagree with the second anonymous. Matt Halsall's set was pleasant but nothing more than that. Good musicians but really lacking in stage presence which was not only due to the power cut and lack of electricity.

    Code Five meanwhile was made up of musicians who are internationally renowned, certainly older and more experienced and even without electricity, we were able to hear every note from each of the musicians and every word that Orphy Robinson spoke. As someone who is not a musician but a keen jazz fan, it was obvious that they were a different class of 'elder' musicians who brought an electrical atmosphere (no pun intended) to the gig which could not be said for the first half.

    A little side note…we need to see more of Pat Thomas! His piano playing was simply breathtaking.

  5. Surely reputations always lag behind facts, and you will sympathize with Ronnie's management having to retrospectively defend, or at least live with all decisions going back into an indefinitely long past.

    Where are things now? My feeling is that the programming is broad, that, particularly durung BritJazz, a broad range of current British jazz gets programmed.

    Roger, who reviewed for us, enjoyed both bands, and the way they dealt with the power cut.

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