Live review

Paul Booth Quartet (Travel Sketches album launch) at Pizza Express

Paul Booth Quartet (Travel Sketches album launch)
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, 27 August 2019. Review by Dominic Williams)

On the hottest of nights, the coolest of jazz.

The Paul Booth Quartet at Pizza Express Jazz Club (Photo: Martin Hummel)

Tenor saxophonist Paul Booth’s bio for this event (and following tour) emphasizes his work as a sideman for a long list of rock luminaries including Steve Winwood, Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Van Morrison, The Allman Brothers Band, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Rod Stewart, Kylie Minogue, Riverdance, Jamiroquai and the Eagles. It’s a sensible way of appealing to a broader audience and Pizza Express was virtually full for this gig despite being the Tuesday after Bank Holiday and over 30 degrees C outside.

Denizens of Dean Street, however, were probably more interested in his jazz CV which includes a start at the Royal Academy of Music aged of 16, some self-published small group albums; composer and player in the cross-cultural Patchwork Project and Bansangu Orchestra; and an organ-led trio, all of which seem to have been interwoven with his sideman stints. The other members of the quartet – Steve Hamilton on piano, Dave Whitford on double bass and Andrew Bain on drums – also have impeccable jazz credentials and the music would have kept the pickiest of jazz purists happy, while still parading a breadth of outside influences.

The album features seven tunes written by Booth and inspired by his travels. They are generally cool (in the jazz sense), melodic, often introspective, slow or medium tempo pieces, kicking off with a lovely melody called Seattle Falls, then the Native American-influenced, Latin-beat Seminole Serenade. Live, the mood was shaken up by Chick Corea’s 500 Miles High, slowed again with No Place Like Home from the album, and the first set ended with Medina Scuffle, a raucous multi-rhythmic Trane-inflected number.

The second set continued the travel theme with Tuscan Charm, then Red Rocks. This piece apparently takes mountain peaks as notes of a tune but uses the rhythms of people walking and jogging by. The result is a stately melody over a bouncy propulsive rhythm that gives an effect a bit like Ravel’s Bolero. It probably shouldn’t work so nicely, but it does. Next, not on the album, was a cheeky sax and drums take on Ellington’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. The set closed with Byron Bay, another travel piece and Peter Gabriel’s Don’t Give Up which is also the eighth and closing song from the album. The encore, appropriately, was a bluesy rendition of Pat Metheny’s Travels.

Instrumentally, comparisons with Michael Brecker are unavoidable: the cool style, the technical mastery, the diverse influences and the cross-genre career, but that’s just another way of saying Paul Booth is a very good saxophonist. He was well supported on the night and on the album by Steve Hamilton who provided the colour and harmonic sophistication with an impressively delicate touch (even more so because his little finger was heavily strapped). Dave Whitford on bass was the timekeeping fulcrum but took the chance to shine on his solos and the non-standard rhythms while Andrew Bain provided an improbable combination of energy and impressionistic subtlety throughout.

Booth is a compositional talent as his big band adventures show. Here, he writes a memorable tune; the pieces are well-structured throughout, both in terms of musical development and who does what when. There are sly references smuggled into pieces – Medina Scuffle is apparently Gnawa-inspired and the Peter Gabriel song has a gentle reggae passage. The decision to break up the mood of the album with some live up-tempo pieces was an astute one. All this shows the kind of wit and intelligence that is rarer than it should be and means that the album should reward repeated listening.

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