Review: Liam Noble Quintet at Cheltenham

Liam Noble Quintet
(Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Saturday May 5th 2012. Review by Jon Turney)

A full set of original music from Liam Noble, his regular trio expanded with two horns, and a spiffy new Cheltenham venue in the Parabola Arts Centre. All seemed auspicious for this set, and it delivered, giving the Saturday a real lift.

Noble writes memorable pieces, most often strongly anchored in the left hand, and his long partnership with trio cohorts Dave Whitford on bass and Dave Wickens, drums, gives each of them just the right feel.

So we had bop with a gothic tinge (The Witch), impressionistic rumination (Essays in Idleness) and the appealing Move Along Song – a working title, apparently – breezing by on the gentlest of grooves. All featured wonderful horn work from Chris Batchelor and Shabaka Hutchings. The latter, to my ear, has grown richer and more confident in his playing in the last couple of years on both sax and clarinet. Batchelor was outstanding throughout, but surpassed himself on the playful Clint. His beautiful tone was well in evidence, and he responded eagerly to Noble’s piano provocations. All three players have a quality often evident in the very best, of having space to breathe and think no matter how many notes they are peeling off.

The closer, Geri, was a fitting tribute from one great pianist to another. And not just a great player, but a cunning writer and arranger, too.

“As soon as I started playing, I forgot how nervous I was”, he remarked at the end – the words of a man who sets himself dauntingly high standards, then achieves them.

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