(The Last Music Company LMLP217. LP review by Adrian Pallant)
Heart, soul and blazing musicality – the essence of the art of saxophonist Tony Kofi – take centre stage in this new, live recording with his quintet of trumpeter Andy Davies, pianist Alex Webb, bassist Andrew Cleyndert and drummer Alfonso Vitale. Recorded towards the end of 2019 at Luton’s soon-to-close Bear Club, it hinges around the prolific output of the great (Julian Edward) ‘Cannonball’ Adderley (1928–1975) and his trumpeter/cornettist brother Nat – a golden 1950s/1960s era which saw the alto saxophonist work alongside Miles Davis (notably on Milestones and A Kind of Blue) and John Coltrane; and his own 1958 recording Somethin’ Else remains a classic.
Tony Kofi is indubitably one of the UK’s jazz treasures – a BBC and Parliamentary award-winner who thrives in a live setting and the two-way connection with his audience. Cannonball Adderley was amongst early inspirations, an impact which he neatly sums up: “The first recording I ever heard of Cannonball’s was of the Quintet with the opening track Arriving Soon. It opens with his lone saxophone. I was 17 and, from that moment on, I was hypnotised as if the pied piper had called out to me. I swore that before I got a good technique on the saxophone, I would first acquire a voice that people could recognise and relate to. Cannonball’s sound is like a human voice. He had his own personal sound, which is like finding the rarest diamond that only belongs to you. His sense of rhythm was a revelation.”
Equally at home on tenor, soprano or bari (the latter featured on his fervent Point Blank album of 2018), it’s Kofi’s alto sax which, naturally, emulates and interprets the raw, hard bop and trad/gospel melodiousness of Cannonball… and what a show! A couple of ‘shorts’, from pianist Webb and Kofi respectively, lay the ground – A Portrait of Cannonball’s breezy dual-horn groove and carefree alto improv segueing into samba-swinging Operation Breadbasket (a direct tribute to Cannonball’s support of young jazz musicians). Nat Adderley’s Another Kind of Soul is treated to a blistering rendition, with a tugging-at-the-leash eagerness from Kofi and Davies which is all at once endearing and exciting; their breathtaking improvisations crackle and roll above the snappy, unfaltering rhythm section, right up to a seemingly three-dimensional ‘flaring’ of the final, sustained chord.
Kofi luxuriates in dreamy 1930s standard Stars Fell on Alabama (Perkins/Parish), where it’s a joy to pore over the continual, bluesy invention at close quarters as his soaring phrases reach their husky summit. The jaunty buoyancy of Things Are Getting Better (heard with a lighter touch on Cannonball’s album of the same name with Milt Jackson) promenades with a satisfied smile – and there’s so much in the saxophonist’s ‘armoury’, from sputtering staccato, through a fleeting ‘Glory, Glory, Hallelujah’ quotation and audacious glissando up through the keys, to screeching, clucking abandon. With assured solos from Webb and Cleyndert, it‘s a real crowd-pleaser. Announcing the chugging Sack O’Woe – “Y’know what that means? Bluuuues!” – Kofi and his band radiantly swing out; and as a curtain call, the Adderleys’ signature Work Song (from Nat’s 1960 quintet album) is presented in flying colours, with that sense of zeal that only a live performance can generate.
Another Kind of Soul – A Portrait of Cannonball Adderley is primarily a vinyl release (with digital download also available – no CD) to connect with the unmistakable ambience and immediacy of Adderley’s Capitol and Blue Note recordings. And that ‘edge’ is an important factor for both Kofi and The Last Music Company label. When I asked what, above all else, draws him to Cannonball’s music, the swift reply came: “His church-like sound and his love for the blues – he preached the gospel truth”. On that basis, there’s no-one better placed to keep the spirit not just alive, but flourishing.
Releases 24 April at The Last Music Company
LINK: Malcolm Mills interview