REVIEW: Damon Brown International Quintet with Billy Hart and Jesse Davis at Pizza Express Dean Street

Billy Hart at Pizza Express Dean Street, January 2015
Photo Credit: Paul Wood
Damon Brown International Quintet with Billy Hart and Jesse Davis
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 12th January 2015. Review by Brian Blain)

OK, so it was a rainy,cold Monday night in early January, but it does make you think about the mind-set of the London jazz crowd,when they can virtually ignore the presence of a legend, drummer Billy Hart, who has worked with Hancock, Getz, Brecker, Lovano, Mulligan, Lloyd and countless greats, from the Sixties onwards. Honestly, the Pizza Express in Dean Street should have been packed out last week for the appearance of UK trumpet master Damon Brown’s International Quintet which also boasted the presence of Jesse Davis, the burning altoist, originally from New Orleans, whose biting sound and long tumbling melodic lines, laden with soul, made me think about what it must have been like listening to Charlie Parker in person. And I don’t mean regurgitating old licks, but that magic quality of the sheer presence of a saxophone master.

Jesse Davis at Pizza Expres Dean Street Jan 2015
Photo credit: Paul Wood
Brown is one of our finest brass players, who favours a kind of cross between the stubbier cornet and the conventional trumpet from which he obtains a warm, juicy sound which can be electrifying or lyrical, depending on the mood of the theme that the band is exploring. He is an imaginative writer as well, the odd-time bars of Falling Down, which appeared in the second set, drawing an almost funky feel from the time lord at the drum kit. Later he unveiled an as yet untitled, lyrical piece, inspired by the river that flows through the city of Seoul, the place where Damon lives for almost half the year. Hence the appearance of pianist Paul Kirby,originally from Edinburgh but now enjoying his post as Professor of Jazz Piano at Seoul University. An extremely fine player he straddled the worlds of ‘European’ lyrical introspection, as on the opening reflective section of the river piece, and classic left hand ‘down home’ bass figures against right handed tremolo patterns on the contemporary blues theme that opened the second set.

Martin Zenker at Pizza Express Dean Street Jan 2015
Photo Credit: Paul Wood
German bassist Martin Zenker, another representative of the Seoul Uni’s jazz faculty was not in the least bit fazed with working with the great Hart – who held three of our finest drum talents – James Maddren, Jon Scott and Matt Skelton – spellbound throughout, and by the time we got to the almost inevitable Jeanine, the How High the Moon de nos jours, half way through the second set, his big-toned bass notes, locked into Billy Hart’s tremendous beat were magnificent.

All this, and a glorious Stars Fell on Alabama – Damon always likes to throw in a Bunny Berigan-like standard in contrast to all the other truly hip stuff- caused me to reflect on what a great Festival band this would be. Only the third date on a short English tour,followed by six in Germany, and it was already sounding every bit as together as a much more permanent collection of talents.

Categories: miscellaneous

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