Live reviews

REVIEW: Tony Kofi and the Organization at the Vortex

Toni Kofi
Photo by Peter Jones

Tony Kofi and the Organization
(The Vortex, 7 September 2018. Review by Peter Jones)

“This is The Organization, and we haven’t been fed.” Tony Kofi’s tongue-in-cheek reference to The Sweeney set the tone for the appearance on stage of this sharp-suited heavy mob, who looked as if they might nail your face to the sideboard, should you happen to look at them in the wrong way. In fact, guitarist Simon Fernsby’s organ trio, currently augmented by Kofi on baritone sax, had arrived to launch their new album Point Blank.

In case you hadn’t already guessed, the pop-cultural signs were all over this project, including a beautifully-crafted Blue Note-style album sleeve, its title recalling the brutal Lee Marvin crime thriller from 1967 (well worth a watch, by the way, if you’ve never seen it). Tony Kofi was backed up by some serious muscle in the rhythm department: in addition to Fernsby, sporting his Peaky Blinders cap, there was Pete Whittaker on organ and Pete Cater on drums.
And in keeping with the band’s uncompromising “let’s go to work’ ethic”, Kofi stuck to the baritone all night, beginning with Duke Pearson’s hard-driving blues Minor League. Afterwards he explained how he came to play the instrument in the first place, when his cheap alto fell apart just before a gig. He told the band he had a bari in the boot of his car, and it was either that or he would have nothing to play. Everyone’s face fell. But needless to say, by the end they were all converts to the baritone, including Kofi himself.

On this night, the tough swingers were nicely varied by numbers like McCoy Tyner’s ballad Search for Peace, its lovely melody doubled by Fernsby and Kofi. Whittaker’s liquid, bubbling solo was a thing of beauty; he really is one of our finest jazz organists. His versatility and imagination shone through again on the Pat Martino groove number Cisco, his solo ending with a succession of stacked fourths with a fast Leslie effect. I’ve heard Whittaker many times over the years, but never heard him play better than he did here.

On Wes Montgomery’s waltz-time Full House, Kofi really got into his stride. His default tone is raw and urgent, a sound accentuated by the very nature of the baritone sax. With no competing alto or tenor players on the gig, he wasn’t restricted to honking away down at the bottom; instead he used the full range of the instrument, from that characteristic fat basement parp to the series of strange, whinnying squeaks he emitted during his solo on Dr Lonnie Smith’s L S Blues.

Pete Cater, too, is sheer class. Some drummers might feel tempted to rock out on a gig like this, but he is far too sophisticated a player to succumb, preferring a nuanced approach, always finding little gaps in which to add his nifty fills, but for the most part supplying effortless groove to this criminally fine enterprise.

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