Live review

Boptet and Steve Fishwick Nonet at BOPFEST (2019 EFG LJF)

Boptet and Steve Fishwick Nonet
(Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Bar. 23 November 2019. BOPFEST/EFG LJF. Review by Frank Griffith)

Much flying Bopster-ity and beyond was to be heard during the seven days of BOPFEST at Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington. I attended the sixth day, Saturday 23 November. The three-storey venue boasts two grand pianos (1st and 2nd floor) as well as a bountiful yet cozy music room on the 2nd floor which seats around 70 people creating a substantial yet intimate setting for all things bop.

The BOPFEST, now in its fifth year, has effectively been interwoven into the long-running London Jazz Festival offering a welcome (and necessary) inclusion of a jazz idiom and of players who are often overlooked in so many jazz festivals. Plaudits to vibraphonist Nat Steele and alto saxophonist Allison Neale for their tireless work in instigating and curating an annual celebration of this wonderful music which, to say the least, is still very much alive and in good and assured hands.

Michael Weiss. Photo credit David Benyahia

The afternoon led off at 2pm with a Boptet led by Steele and including some of the UK’s finest practioners: Colin Oxley, guitar; Adam King, bass, and visiting New Yorkers, pianist Michael Weiss and UK-born drummer Mark Taylor. Highlights included Oxley’s reading of Don’t Blame Me and the set closer, Ray’s Idea by Dizzy Gillespie, a bopping romp based on a melodic fragment from venerable bassist Ray Brown. The joyous tune proved exactly the right way to bring a fulfilling afternoon of festive bopology to a close.

The 8pm show brought on the talents of trumpeter/arranger/transcriber and bandleader Steve Fishwick and his nonet. They recreated McCoy Tyner’s Blue Note LP, Tender Moments, recorded in 1967 just a few months after Tyner’s former boss John Coltrane’s untimely passing. The nonet included saxophonists Paul Booth and Sam Mayne, trombonist Trevor Mires, tuba player Mike Poyser, hornist Anna Drysdale, with Steve Fishwick himself on trumpet. The fiery rhythm section boasted bassist Jeremy Brown, drummer Matt Fishwick and Michael Weiss. The somewhat unusual horn line-up with the brighter sounding trumpet and two saxes offset by the horn and tuba blended the overall orchestration in an effective way, so that the largely tight as well as modal harmonies were embraced and made easier and accessible to the listener’s ear. The “making one of opposites”, as the poet Eli Siegel once wrote.

Pianist Weiss rose to the occasion with aplomb, his extensive soloing a motherlode of ideas and invention, making a clear and respectful nod to McCoy Tyner, but also adding making imaginative use of his own post-modal vocabulary.

Other outstanding solo turns were heard from the tenor sax of Paul Booth, blowing the proverbial roof off Lautrec’s top floor venue. His relentless tenacity echoed more the sound and spirit of Bennie Maupin (who is on the original LP) rather than that of Coltrane. Alto saxist Sam Mayne followed in similar vein with his liquid fluidity over the entire range and altissimo of his horn. This was tempered with his love and leanings of pre 1960 bopsters like Phil Woods and Sonny Stitt.

Brasswise, Trevor Mires’ robust and sometimes bawdy trombone outings offered a welcome variation although there were not enough of them. This can often be the case in a nonet with so many “animals to be fed” solowise, so fair dues. Fishwick’s trumpet was exemplary throughout on both ensemble passages and solos. Having led a nonet and written for it, I am have unlimited respect for the way Steve Fishwick took on the challenging and exposed role of lead trumpet role over five lower horns. It is so different from the more conventional line-up of two trumpets, with the lower one providing welcome support underneath the lead.

An extraordinary set of a classic LP by one of Jazz’ iconic figures, McCoy Tyner. Many thanks to BOPFEST for bringing this ebullient music to life so superbly.

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