(LyteRecords LR049. CD Review by Jane Mann)
This splendid new double live CD from award-winning saxophonist, band leader, composer and educator Jean Toussaint and his (accurately named) Allstar 6tet was released on 11 October 2019, to mark what would have been Art Blakey’s 100th birthday. London-based Toussaint first found fame during his formative years when he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1982, shortly after leaving Berklee College of Music in Boston, and the experience changed his life. Kevin le Gendre writes in the album sleeve notes, “Toussaint affectionately refers to Blakey as ‘the transformer’, given the impact of his inspired leadership and nurturing of legends such as Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan and Wynton Marsalis.” And, I would add, Jean Toussaint. Toussaint now carries the torch, teaching, leading, and inspiring young musicians. He first came to London in 1987 for a three-month artist-in-residence role at the Guildhall School of Music, and he stayed. He currently teaches there, at Trinity Laban and Birmingham Conservatoires, and occasionally at the Royal Academy of Music. He was awarded the Parliamentary Award for Jazz Education in 2018, and after 30 odd years in the field his influence on the London jazz scene is colossal.
The CDs record a show at the Jazz Café in London in December 2018 which came towards the end of an extensive tour promoting the very well-received album Brother Raymond, and what a show it must have been.
Toussaint’s Allstars are a changing array of world class musicians, colleagues and protégés – the six who make up this 6tet span the generations and yet sound as if they have playing together forever. On trumpet is English polymath and composer Byron Wallen, who contributes the second tune of the show The Gatekeeper, a terrific vehicle for the meticulous tight ensemble playing of this combo. On trombone is the redoubtable Dennis Rollins (Badbone & Co, Boneyard) who also moved to London in 1987, from Doncaster.
The rhythm section are outstanding. There’s Londoner Shaney Forbes, of Empirical and Wave fame on drums. Now I don’t usually relish a long drum solo on a CD, (live is a different matter) but his introduction to Toussaint’s Doc is so thrilling that you can hear the crowd whooping with delight after each thunderous display of virtuosity. It is almost a relief when fellow Londoner Andrew McCormack’s (Kyle Eastwood, Jason Yarde) graceful piano leads us to a calmer place and the beauty of the piece gently emerges. On bass is Daniel Casimir, a young Birmingham Conservatoire alumnus who has just completed a Masters in Composition at Trinity Laban. He contributes a lovely composition himself called The Missing of Sleep. In his introduction Toussaint points out that Casimir is a brand-new father, hence the title of the tune. Mandingo Brass, the Rebello/Toussaint tune named after the first band that Toussaint played with, features a tremendous performance from eminent London-based Venezuelan percussionist William Cumberbache Perez, the fourth member of the section.
We get seven tracks over the two discs, including four compositions by Toussaint, one a joint piece with long term collaborator pianist Jason Rebello. The show begins with the positive Amabo (Toussaint points out that the title is Obama spelt backwards, and also, pleasingly, “I shall love” in Latin) and you know you are in for a great concert. Doc, another Toussaint tune, is a joy. It has a simple ascending melody buoyed up by some brilliant muted brass and McCormack’s rippling piano. There are delightful, lyrical solos from absolutely everyone, colouring in the spaces around the tune. I think this might be my favourite track on the album, though it is a close call between Doc and the up-beat Major Changes, a glorious exploration of optimism. This tune has all the trademarks of a Toussaint masterwork. The composition is tight, with no jarring between the varied movements, just seamless, inevitable sounding progression to the conclusion. Toussaint plays wonderfully here – he is one of the great saxophonists. He has a mellow tone, so soulful you feel he could slip into funk or blues at any second. Despite his mastery of the instrument, he never hogs the limelight – he is always generous with his arrangements, allowing the other musicians space to shine, and they do. The underlying Caribbean and Latin styles – Toussaint grew up in the US Virgin Islands before moving to New York – give his tunes a dance-like energy, in combination with that Blakey-influenced straight-ahead drive.
Toussaint is an engaging front man – his introductions to each number are informative, and his evident appreciation of his fellow players is charming. He starts and finishes the show with the traditional jazz welcome “Thanks for coming out” and the listeners to the CD get their own acknowledgement, “special thanks to you, the reason we do what we do”. I appreciate such good manners.
For the encore we get a gorgeous rendition of Art Blakey’s most well-known tune, Moanin’ by Bobby Timmons. McCormack kicks things off with a contemplative introduction, and then everyone else piles in, and the effect is wonderful – these tremendous musicians could be another iteration of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers led by Titan of the Tenor Jean Toussaint in some gospel church of jazz. This is a great finish to what must have been a dazzling gig.
The sound quality of this live recording is excellent. Just enough sound from the audience is left in to let the listener feel their joy at this particular night of fine music. It genuinely makes you wish you had been there.
Byron Wallen trumpet
Dennis Rollins trombone
Andrew McCormack piano
Daniel Casimir bass
William Cumberbache Perez percussion
Shaney Forbes drums
Jean Toussaint tenor saxophone
Amabo (I shall love) J. Toussaint
The Gatekeeper B. Wallen
Doc J. Toussaint
Major Changes J. Toussain
The Missing of Sleep D. Casimir
Mandingo Brass J. Rebello / J. Toussaint
Moanin’ B. Timmons