|L-R: Ivo Neame, Tom Farmer, George Crowley, Martin France
Photo credit: Maya Sapone-Neame
Ivo Neame Quartet
(Lauderdale House. 23 November 2017. Review by Brian Blain)
A few days after playing to a full house in the Barbican’s second venue with our biggest piano trio ‘export’, Phronesis, here was pianist/composer Ivo Neame on Thursday last, with his own Quartet in front of 50-60 people at North London’s Lauderdale House; welcome to the world of suburban jazz promotion.
I couldn’t help thinking of one of Alan Barnes’s dry intros when he spoke of “the words that strike fear in the hearts of jazz audiences everywhere: ‘and now we’d like to play an original composition'”. Because that is what Neame does; write original, accessible, sometimes beautifully melodic, or truly exciting material for his terrific band to play as well as being a brilliant piano improviser himself. Not only that, on this date he also brought along a Mellotron for subtle, and occasionally, ghostly carpets of sound under George Crowley‘s fabulous tenor playing, and a Vintage (brand name) rig, reinvented to reproduce those glorious edgy or ‘bottley’ sounds of the Fender Rhodes keyboard, the classic sound of the ’70s.
The set up of the band was perfect, with immense care to get the balance right in what is an an extremely ‘live’ room. There is great variety in Neame’s music so getting the sound right, from the hectic excitement of a section of the opener Charmed Offensive to a pensive piano introduction to one of the themes of the second set, is vital. The rhythm section of bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Martin France coped with every tempo change superbly, a couple of the themes hinting at changes from regular swing but not in that old ten to ten way, to a suggestion of a three pulse: like shifting gears with no apparent change.
Farmer could easily be overlooked for there was none of that hectic scampering around the fingerboard that is invariably a crowd-pleaser: just good solid time and a lovely warm bass sound striking up a great relationship with Martin France depping for James Maddren and, for me, one of the giants of contemporary drum techniques in the UK. This isn’t a tenor and rhythm band; the music demands much more interplay than that phrase implies. Nevertheless in George Crowley – my personal discovery of the year – Neame has acquired a commanding presence with a voice that is lyrical, quirky urgent and gripping,as the material requires.
The end of the show was a masterstroke, a lovely progression to a calming mood over a gently funky backbeat number, Vegetarian, with Farmer going into what I can only think of as a ‘grumbly’ bass line almost breaking up the beat in contrast to those thunderthumbs figures of yore. It took the crowd a few seconds to react but when they did the applause was warm and generous with even the old school doubters caught up in a great performance. Icing on the cake? An encore on one of Coltrane’s favourites, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes. Ronnie Scott loved playing it and I bet he would have loved this team doing it too.
Brian Blain is involved with the jazz programming at Lauderdale House