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Review: Tony Kofi Quartet at St James Studio

Tony Kofi. Photo Credit: Paul Wood

Tony Kofi Quartet
(St James Theatre Studio SW1, 23rd November 2012. Review by Frank Griffith)

The St James Theatre Studio on Palace St near to Victoria Station is a new and welcome venue for Jazz. James Albrecht, the Associate Artistic Director responsible for the Studio Bar has wisely enlisted sometime thespian and jazz pianist, Dorian Ford, to curate a Friday night jazz concerts series, and what a fine job he has done so far. Boasting seating capacity for 120 the main room is laid out well with tables and comfy chairs, a handy bar and very helpful staff who are not ominpresent or overbearing. There is also upper balcony seating for those who prefer a higher angle on things as while there is a full PA present the overall sonic ambience of the room is organically an acoustical one.

The Tony Kofi Quartet presented an exciting and eclectic programme with pieces by Wayne Shorter, George Adams, Thelonious Monk and Chick Corea as well as the classic standard, If I Should Lose You. Their refresing take on this chestnut borrowed from a 1980s quartet in NYC called Sphere (with Kenny Barron and Charlie Rouse) and their treatment of the same song.

The leader’s alto sax combines a rich mix of tonal influences from the likes of Sonny Stitt and James Spaulding coupled with the dry wistfulness of Sonny Criss if not a dollop of the tubby jocularity of the late James Moody. He sports a full tone throughout the entire contours of the horn and is not afraid to display his circular breathing skills. These allow him to not break his tone or phrase in order to inhale more air, a technique often resorted to by lesser players as an end of pier, sideshow like gimmick that one can tire easily from. Mr Kofi only employs it sparingly though and musically effectively at that. His Moody-like humour was evident in his many quotes, most notably Exactly Like You during his solo on George Adams’ Flower For A Lady.

The fine trio showcased the talents of pianist, Trevor Watkiss, who rose to the occasion admirably tackling several new pieces with aplomb. His supportive accompanying skills were matched by his lyrical melodicsms and sensitive touch. The deeply swing bassist, Larry Bartley, provided the bulk of the engine room responsibilities for the group as well as contributed some credible solos. His fluent melodies were enhanced by his strongly percussive and insistent rhythmic integrity. 20 year old drummer, Moses Boyd, is clearly a face for the future with his light but driving touch and general attentiveness to all matters ensemble. His fluid and ringing tone on his ride cymbal went a long way to instilling a fully swinging comfort zone from the rhythm section.

An excellent evening of jazz by an exemplary quartet in a most ideal of settings. Do access the St James Theatre sooner rather than later and book yourself in for their upcoming season of Jazz on Fridays.

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