REVIEW: Leroy Jones Quintet at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Leroy Jones. Photo credit Paul Wood

Leroy Jones Quintet
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 25th October 2015. Third night of five. Review by Brian Blain)

The counter-revolution has well and truly broken out. After years of Arts Council and PRS bullying, with a supporting cast of journalists, broadcasters and reviewers  – me included – trying to make people respond to the original and the unlikeable, a packed house, the third in a row of five at the Pizza Express in Dean Street last Sunday, to hear the New Orleans trumpet player Leroy Jones, displayed the undying appeal of simple melodic songs, and a rhythm section – all local – that swung, with a fine grasp of dynamics, light and shade. Nor was the crowd composed of elders who were around when the first Bunk Johnson and George Lewis records were released, to spark the interest in New Orleans jazz. They were in fact typical of the ‘youngish couple’ set who like to go up West to be entertained, not educated. How they got to hear of Jones is a mystery, but there is a real movement of interest in swing jazz all over, and many young players are happy to be part of the action.

This wasn’t the old revivalist purism. When I was squeezed into the room, Exactly Like You was in full flow, to be followed by Go Down to New Orleans, and my first reaction was to the Bireli Lagrene-like quality of the guitar playing of Dave Archer, and to the Hot Club feel of the rhythm section, chunky and square but flowing, with great bass sound and feel from Fergus Ireland and one of THE go-to guys in London right now, drummer Pedro Segundo, who I last saw at the Swanage Festival with Denis Rollins’ funk-heavy Velocity Trio. It’s this variety of background of the rhythm section that as much as anything kept the evening feeling so fresh, even though Jones liked to keep the old New Orleans vibe up front as much as possible, as on Shivers Blues, but when he went for a boppish Pennies from Heaven, for example, Segundo was right there with more than just a touch of period-style bass drum interjections.

Pedro Segundo . Photo credit : Paul Wood

Some Day You’ll Be Sorry and Baby Won’t You Please Come Home brought out lovely, warm, lyrical solos from the leader, and it was clear that we were in the presence of a vastly experienced craftsman totally at ease with his material, not trying to prove anything other than his ability to provide warm accessible musical entertainment. It was the brisk boppish blues closer which came nearest to that Armstrong-to-Clifford Brown shtick that some of us had been looking forward to, but, as ever, his front line partner, trombonist Katja Toivola, with her very traditional style did much to keep him grounded – in a good way – and in touch with the audiences around the world that derive so much enjoyment from his playing, which comes straight from his deep Louisiana roots.

LINKS: Preview of the Leroy Jones tour
Leroy Jones UK Tour website

Categories: miscellaneous

3 replies »

  1. A doubly enjoyable read, first for the writing itself, and second for the hopeful news it confirms: that young people do like jazz that makes them smile and feel good about life after all.

  2. Well,
    I wasn't in the packed audience for this, although even I occasionally enjoy the “undying appeal of simple melodic songs”.

    But equating popularity with quality sadly takes us down the X-Factor route. Are we really saying that jazz – of all genres – should eschew originality?? Is the likable to be favoured over the unlikable on principle.
    Arts Council and PRS don't bully – what they do is help give music a chance when it isn't instantly likable. If its instantly likable then it won't need funding surely.

    The whole point about jazz is that it is (or should be) constantly exploring, experimenting, imagining. Of course there is a place for those artists who stick to the tradition – but its not a counter revolution – its conservatism – and not for me thanks.

  3. Well said, Brian. Younger people enjoying classic mainstream (as we used to call it) jazz is surely a cause more for celebration than concern. Perhaps for them is IS a revolution, after years of listening to dreary loops and studio-created inanities?

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