Jay Rayner Quartet. Live at Zedel – A Night of Food and Agony
(Live at Zedel. CD Review by Leonard Weinreich)
A Jay Rayner album weakens the resolve to resist culinary imagery (musicians’ chops? Sense of thyme?). Because, while Mr Rayner leads the band from the keyboard, he’s carrying heavy media baggage: an irascible restaurant critic with a celebrated side-order of brusqueness. He treads a lone, though distinguished, path: in the 1970s, Humphrey Lyttleton skewered restaurant pretentions for Harpers-Queen magazine with a lethal pen, memorably describing a dish of crudités as “…much like chewing my way through a barbed-wire entanglement…” Polymath Humph was also a consummate broadcaster and, like Wally Fawkes and Diz Disley, a gifted cartoonist. Cultural journo and author George Melly was also a Surrealist guru; Art Ellefsen, a doctor; Dudley Moore, a skilled comic actor and Sandy Brown, an acoustics expert. Benny Green blossomed on radio and edited Wisden. Is multi-tasking amongst jazzers a curiously British phenomenon? Discuss.
This album is a late night show recorded in situ at Crazy Coqs, an intimate Soho cabaret where jazz-inflected acts collide with cocktails. In between songs, Rayner spins revealing reminiscences (perhaps the first jazz pianist to go on record about his mother and wooden penises?) and the lyric department is handled by singer Pat Gordon-Smith, who also doubles as Mrs Rayner.
Perversely for a food writer, the programme follows a disordered meal, starting with It Must Be Jelly (Cause Jam Don’t Shake Like That), followed by Better Than Anything (questionable choice with indigestible lyrics), then Peggy Lee’s Black Coffee, Food Glorious Food (acknowledging Lionel Bart’s debt to Bronislaw Kaper’s Green Dolphin Street) and The Ladies Who Lunch (reminding us of the innate unswingability of Stephen Sondheim’s compositions). After the food section, the mood segues into sensuality. Blue Skies is an unusual and appealing Gordon-Smith/Rickenberg duet for voice and bass. Rayner decants piano passion into Tenderly and the evening wraps with Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End of Love and a rousing Hallelujah I Love Him So.
The band is spirited throughout (take a deep bow Dave Lewis) if not always precise. And, in restaurant terms, the offering is more bistro than – loathsome expression – ‘fine dining’. The louche flavour of Crazy Coqs is faithfully captured and the audience’s appetite is fully satisfied. As well it should be.
Jay Rayner, piano; Robert Rickenberg, bass; Dave Lewis, tenor saxophone; Pat Gordon-Smith, voice. Recorded live at Crazy Coqs, Zedel, Soho, London, 24 March 2017. Live at Zedel – A Night of Food and Agony is Released on 8th September