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REVIEW: Douglas Marriner/Leo Richardson Transatlantic Quartet – Celebrating 80 years of Blue Note at Hampstead Jazz Club

Douglas Marriner and Leo Richardson
Composite publicity photo

Douglas Marriner/Leo Richardson Transatlantic Quartet – Celebrating 80 years of Blue Note
(Hampstead Jazz Club. 23 April 2019. Review by Dominic Williams)

Hampstead Jazz Club has been under new management since November 2018, but is still based in the basement of the Duke of Hamilton pub in New End, an intimate venue with a ceiling so low that it has a hatch cut in it, so the upright bass can actually stand upright. It now concentrates on building up a faithful clientele for a Thursday to Sunday programme, with the occasional special event like this Tuesday one-off.

The event was billed as Celebrating 80 Years of Blue Note but more accurately it was a celebration of the late 1950s and early 1960s heyday of the New York-based label as the home of hard bop. At the time, the albums trickled slowly across the Atlantic cased in thick American cardboard sleeves with the famous Blue Note cover designs and with a big IMPORT sticker on the cellophane, sold by sardonic men in beards and cardigans in Dobells or Rays on Charing Cross Road. Some of the audience could probably remember that, but the band were all a generation or two later and picked up the music from elsewhere, in the case of Leo Richardson from his dad, bassist Jim, who was in the audience.

Richardson, himself on tenor sax, has his own hard bop quartet (much-garlanded for The Chase, their debut album): Leon Greening was on piano, (a Bud Powell fan), Tim Thornton on bass (compared to Paul Chambers by one reviewer) and Douglas Marriner on drums, ex-Trinity and Julliard, now New York-based (the transatlantic element in the quartet). This was a band on familiar musical territory, playing the music they grew up with.

Many Blue Note bands were sextets or septets with three or more horns, able to play call and response on the melody and swap parts around. With a quartet, the piano and bass needed to take more of the solos to keep up the variety, which they did with elan. Moreover, the hard bop scene at the time was hardly homogenous. Some people were recent converts from bebop, others were passing through on the way to the future. By the time of Wayne Shorter’s Juju album in 1965, the music has almost moved on to another style. The band coped with that variation with due observance but without pastiche. It made sense to go for so many Horace Silver pieces – they chose the best tunes to play, rather than the best performances to emulate. It meant they didn’t play Moanin’ (the Art Blakey classic) – but I don’t think anyone minded.

The gig opened with a ferociously confident up-tempo assault on The Kicker that set the tone for the evening. Richardson himself, dapper in blazer and pocket hankerchief, stayed cool, unruffled and precise all night evening while the others flung themselves into the music with energy. Having great tunes is a good start but Richardson’s ability to sustain interest all evening without repeating ideas is impressive testament to his strength as a soloist. Greening was equally inventive while driving the pace and switching styles from bossa nova to a neat McCoy Tyner impression as required. Thornton had a combination of time keeping strictness and solo invention that was tested to the full over the evening. Marriner played with a traditional grip and a light, impressionistic style that still generated a lot of rhythmic power and varied between delicate brushwork to louder tom toms when needed. In short, the band played beautifully, in style with the period but with great variety and enjoyed themselves as much as the audience did. What more could we ask for?


Joe Henderson – The Kicker (from Horace Silver, Song for my Father)
Joe Henderson – Recorda Me
Dexter Gordon – Cheesecake
Horace Silver – Peace
Bobby Timmons – Dat Dere (from Jazz Messengers, The Big Beat)
Hank Mobley – Remember (from Soul Station but actually written by Irving Berlin)
Wayne Shorter – Mahjong
Horace Silver – Tippin’
Horace Silver – Song for My Father
Horace Silver – Sister Sadie

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