|The airy music room at The Elgin
Photo courtesy of Geronimo Inns
Allison Neale and Nat Steele have a new venture BopFest, part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Andrew Cartmel found out the background:
Commencing on November 17th and nestling within the London Jazz Festival like a pearl in an oyster, is BopFest. Sited in Ladbroke Grove, this boutique festival-in-a-festival celebrates, as the name suggests, the glories of unadulterated bebop — once the difficult avant-garde of jazz, now the strong and swinging mainstream of the music. BopFest’s venue is the Elgin, a handsome high-ceilinged Victorian boozer near Portobello Road. The attractively intimate music room at the back of the pub boasts a fine Yamaha grand piano and can accommodate eighty pleasure-seekers. The Elgin had strong associations with punk rock and, indeed, was Joe Strummer’s local. Jazz lovers need not take fright, though. Punk was just one phase of the pub’s long musical legacy; before that it was a hangout for Mods. And now it looks set to be memorably linked with high quality jazz.
While the LJF pursues a largely European and modernist agenda, BopFest aims to balance the equation by putting the emphasis on straight-ahead playing and exciting British jazz at its purest and most enjoyably accessible. It’s the brainchild of the pleasingly rhyming duo of Allison Neale and Nat Steele. Both are working professional musicians, rather than suits, which bodes extremely well for BopFest, and for our ears.
Steele is a vibraphonist and drummer. He’s cited by Clark Tracey as one of the “best vibes players this country has ever produced,” while Dave Gelly called him “a remarkable young vibraphonist in the Milt Jackson tradition.” Steele’s love of popular jazz is revealed in his influences — the likes of Jackson, and Cal Tjader. His quartet are among the night owls who regularly play the Late Late show at Ronnie Scott’s, offering a syncopated and sizzling lullaby for the nocturnal hipsters of the capital.
Allison Neale (interviewed here last year) plays alto sax and flute — Jazz Review describes her having “an alto sound like brushed velvet”; Dave Gelly observes that she plays “with a tone so light and airy it positively melts at the edges” — and although she’s London-based, Neale is a West Coast musician by birth and temperament. Her most recent album I Wished on the Moon displayed her love for standards and the great players of the genre like Art Pepper, Lee Konitz, Bud Shank and Paul Desmond. Of her own group she says, “These musicians are dedicated to bebop as an art form and we have been friends and colleagues for so many years. I can’t think of anything better than to play with musicians who really swing and inspire me so much as they all do.” Given that this is the attitude which so clearly informs the programming of BopFest, it’s an exciting prospect to explore what they’ve cooked up for us.
Nov 17th. BopFest kicks off with Leon Greening’s Trio, with Adam King on bass and Steve Brown on drums.
Nov 18th. On November 18th we have the Rob Barron Quartet featuring Rob Barron piano, Colin Oxley guitar, Jeremy Brown bass and Josh Morrison drums.
Nov 19th. November 19th sees the Mark Crooks Quartet with Mark Crooks tenor sax, Gabriel Latchin piano, Dave Chamberlain bass and Matt Home drums.
Nov 20th. You can hear Allison Neale and Nathaniel Steele themselves playing, naturally — putting their music where their mouth is, so to speak. The Neale Meets Steele Quintet perform on November 20th and, besides Neale on alto and Steele on vibes, it features the rhythm section of Leon Greening on piano, Julian Bury on bass and Steve Brown on drums.
Nov 21st. November 21st add trumpet to the mix, courtesy of the Steve Fishwick/Osian Roberts Quintet, a hard-bop outfit with Steve Fishwick on trumpet, Osian Roberts tenor sax, again Gabriel Latchin on piano and Jeremy Brown on bass, and Matt Fishwick on drums.
Nov 22nd 2pm. Following that is BopFest’s grand finale, a mouthwatering project entitled Beyond the Cool, an afternoon session on the final Sunday. Richard Shepherd’s nonet performs the original music for Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool (plus music by the likes of Marty Paich, especially arranged for the band). The nonet consists of Shepherd on baritone sax, Freddie Gavita trumpet, Callum Au tuba, Anna Drysdale French horn, Robbie Harvey trombone, Rob Barron piano, Nat Steele bass, and our old friends Allison Neale on alto sax and Nat Steele on drums. This is a unique chance to hear the classic music crafted by Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, Lee Konitz and Gil Evans, with its unforgettably haunting style derived from the Claude Thornhill Orchestra — played live and in the original configuration. It’s an opportunity not to be missed.
All the gigs except the Sunday 2pm nonet gig are at 8pm. Entrance costs £12 per gig or you can buy a season ticket for all six at the reduced price of sixty quid. The organizers also acknowledge support from Addison Lee and Seven Towns (makers of the Rubik’s cube)
Book early at the BOPFEST WEBSITE so you can be among the lucky eighty souls at the back of the Elgin.