Live review

Nick Costley-White “Speak Like A Child” Sextet at Pizza Express Dean Street

Nick Costley-White “Speak Like A Child” Sextet
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 23 February 2020. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

What a great project. Speak Like a Child was an album by Herbie Hancock from 1968, with unusual writing and instrumentation: the classic jazz piano trio plus alto flute, flugelhorn and trombone. Guitarist Nick Costley-White has lovingly transcribed the whole album, and used tunes from it as the point of departure for this new sextet project. The set-list, below, kindly provided by Nick, tells the story.

This first gig combined pieces from the album and other Herbie Hancock numbers from around the time, plus a standard, the ballad Old Folks, and original compositions, all making use of the fascinating instrumental colours and blends available. Flugelhorn, alto flute and trombone is a delicious combination, particularly with such ideal and experienced protagonists as Gareth Lockrane, Freddie Gavita and Kieran McLeod.

Nick Costley-White’s guitar takes the place of the piano, and this was a first outing for the group. The word ‘promising’ feels like an understatement. If this is the assuredness, this is the joy they are capable of imparting on their first gig, then by the time they come to record for radio or get booked for a festival, or make an album, the results will be very memorable indeed.

The gig serves as a reminder of the maturing and growing process that goes on in the years after musicians have left conservatoire. I was struck by the sheer presence and melodic heft and ease of Nick Costley-White’s playing. The ghost of a great guitar player like Doug Raney came to mind. The ideas flow naturally, the sound is gorgeous, there’s just nothing missing. And the substitution of guitar for the piano in the original album gives a band sound that leaves space for things to happen: bassist Conor Chaplin can be either as busy and intricate or as sparse as he wants to be. Drummer Steve Brown can inject all the positivity and joy as he always does. There is space for the three horns to relish both the Herbie Hancock compositions, and do justice to the very cleverly constructed ensemble writing and backings from Costley-White. There are all kinds of subtle harmonies, and a combination of challenge and unease and angularity and just… beauty, always keeping the element of surprise as to which will come next.

I was struck by an irony: it’s probably only natural that when composers present a lot of new music, what they talk about, what stays in their mind are not just the moments when the process they’ve been through was going well, but also the times when they were finding that inspiration wasn’t that easy to come by. That modesty and honesty was simply blown away: the writing and the performance had an accessibility, a flow and real purpose about them. And those are the things that stay in the mind from a special evening. More please, and soon.

SET LISTS

More ways than one (Nick Costley-White)

Christof waltz (N C-W)

Blues for 6 (N C-W)

Old folks (Willard Robison)

If (Joe Henderson)

Throwdown (N C-W)

Riot (Herbie Hancock)

Speak like a child (HH)

Toys (HH)

First trip (Ron Carter)

I have a dream (HH)

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