Review: Tony Kinsey Quartet

Tony Kinsey

Tony Kinsey Quartet
(Way Out West at the Orange Tree Richmond, February 22nd 2012. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Tony Kinsey,a central figure in British jazz for several decades, will be 85 in October. You’d never guess it, though. It is nothing short of miraculous that the drummer, composer and bandleader should be playing with the spark, vigour, drive, control, relish, crispness, presence and tonal resourcefulness that he displayed last night.

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A bigger venue than the Orange Tree in Richmond should be offering to help him celebrate his birthday in October, and he certainly deserves a significant London Jazz Festival slot in November.

In Johnny Mandel’s ‘El Cajon’, a play on the name of Al Cohn, to whom it is dedicated, Kinsey’s use of the brushes caught the eye and the ear. As one LondonJazz reader waxed poetically to me by email this morning: “as soft yet as sinewy as a cat’s tail.” Thank you for that.

Kinsey looked a little wary at the start of the evening, which was understandable: he explained that the piano and bass chairs in his quartet were being filled by people by musicians who had stepped in at short notice, and whom he had never met before. Gradually, however, that inimitable Kinsey smile of intense concentration returned, as he started to clock the sheer quality of the players whom the fates had wafted in to play alongside him.

Bassist Calum Gourlay, nearly sixty years younger than Kinsey, was the epitome of professionalism, respectfulness, watchfulness. His calm and his sweet tone were to the fore on his very first read-through Kinsey’s tune ‘Vine Fields’, in which he naturally caught the dappled shadows of Kinsey’s gentle vision of twilight in rural France.

Pianist Jim Watson has huge variety of language, and invariably has something convincing to say, even at speed. Kinsey set a breakneck pace for Bill Evans Funkalero, around crotchet equals 280, a speed at which reveries and flights of fantasy would turn most of the human race into a danger to traffic and to themeselves. It was a pace at which Watson’s secure hands and flow of ideas were mesmerizing.

A different kind of professional hazard awaits saxophone players: to have the eyes of their peers examining their every move. Sam Mayne had Bob Martin and Frank Griffith and Tim Whitehead and Chris Biscoe all gazing forth at him. But the only audible reactions of those observers – indeed the only ones possible – were gasps of approval, because Mayne was on strong form. There were many highlights where Mayne showed how the individuality of his voice grows all the time. Mayne has big experience as big band soloist, burning from the outset, but in the longer opportunities of the quartet setting, his ideas develop convincing shapes, the paragraphs are getting longer and more interesting, notably on Cole Porter”s “All of You.”

Chris Biscoe also guested on Kinsey’s Groove Squad and did the kind of multi-tasking challenge which rock and classical musicians rarely need to prove they can rise to: Biscoe was not only trading musical ideas eloquently with Watson and Mayne, he was also running the box office and settling the accounts for the raffle last night.

The Wednesday Orange Tree gig run by the musicians collective Way Out West, right by Richmond station, now in its eighth year, is one of the hidden gems of the London scene. World-class musicians, friendly bar staff. Go.

The next Way Out West gig is Nette Robinson on Weds Feb 29th

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1 reply »

  1. Listening to the astonishing Frank Capp Juggernaut led me to Tony Kinsey (thank you, Al Gore, for inventing the web!!!), and ultimately to Sebastian Watney's lyrical review of Kinsey's birthday gig at Way Out West. How I wish I had been there for that magical night, all the way from Northern California. Questions: was that performance recorded (even if not professionlly)? is such a recording available somehow? is Tony Kinsey still performing and/or recording?

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