Nick Weldon Sextet- Hidden Flame/Eleven Flames album preview
(Lauderdale House. 30th April 2015. International Jazz Day. Review by Dan Bergsagel)
This Thursday saw an audience sufficient to fill the house venturing off the beaten jazz track to catch Nick Weldon‘s sextet at Lauderdale House. Weldon’s enthusiastic and informative explanations, steeped in wordplay and wit, accompanied the varied set of originals and classics. This was a fitting celebration of International Jazz Day.
His sextet is a fascinating project, bringing together a diverse selection of accomplished musicians into a musical environment combining new compositions, poetic adaptations and political insight with exuberant interpretations of classics.
The evening opened with Weldon alone on bass, then joined in duet by Andra Sparks in a strong and satisfyingly resolved vocal refrain launching the modal Where You Are. Clean horn interjections buttressed the ever-engaging improvisations from pianist Nikki Iles as she supported the back line while transforming the tone of the piece with her simple inflection. Capturing the “sensual immediacy of passion of every kind”, Baby, Don’t You Quit Now slunk in next. Heavy with euphemism as Andra Sparks’s suggestive vocal delivery of Johnny Mercer’s lyrics shone with humour, Art Themen completed the song with a raw and surprisingly dirty solo.
Things continued as an unpredictable collage, with contemplative religious trio pieces mixed in with jaunty interpretations of 17th century poetry, and classics from Ray Charles, Nat King Cole and Thelonious Monk’s repertoires – each piece delivered with a historical prologue recounting stories of restoration comedy or delivering elaborate music puns. The group’s evident ease on classics like Weaver of Dreams provided Laura Jurd with the space to draw richly phrased trumpet lines above the backing.
While the audience were left with a haunting rendition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Hushabye Mountain to end the night , it was the timely and poignant Justice which stole the show. Dubbed “a blues for Drums and Whispers”, Justice was an exploration of the grief encapsulated in the blues, and the sub-genre’s importance as a commentary during the struggles against racism and segregation in the southern United States in the 30s and 40s. With recent events in Ferguson and Baltimore in the spotlight, the intensity and passion that this fast-paced driven blues brought passion and spark from all. Cut with audio recordings from Malcolm X and Trayvon Martin, as well as pre-recorded whispering from the sextet themselves. Incisive explosive percussion from the fantastic Trevor Tomkins on drums completed the piece.
As Weldon explained before the set began, the gig was a run-through preview of a concept album – Hidden Flame/Eleven Flames. Yet unlike some concept albums, that are perhaps more marketing masquerading as creativity than anything else, this album was simply about exploring a range of different emotions. While some pieces may have been born from whimsical beginnings – such as the Latin melody/Latin malady pun behind the inception of Bulimia – they finished as philosophical musings on the human condition. To better describe these emotions, Weldon assembled one of the more unusual jazz ensembles on the circuit, including horn players born half a century apart, and a lamentable rarity: a gender equal band. But aside from the abundance of talent evident in the instrumentalists, arrangements and compositions alike, it was the freshness of the group’s make up which made this concept concert such a roaring success.
And just a few words about Lauderdale House. Built for the Master of the Mint in 1582 and the location of the birth of two of King Charles’ illegitimate children, it is a fascinating historical venue which, like many old buildings, is under threat. They host jazz, with the Thursday series in the capable programming hands of Brian Blain, in among a busy and broad musical and educational programme. Lauderdale House are attempting to secure enough funding to renovate and modernise the building to ensure it can continue for many more centuries to come. They would happily welcome donations to their cause. Another method of support is simply to visit one of their upcoming events. It’s enough make Private Eye’s ‘Piloti’ proud.