(Stream premiered on 21 November 2020 from Karamel. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Leah Williams)
From the opening growl of Chris Batchelor’s muted trumpet and the equally purposeful yet joyful response from bandmates – reeds player James Allsopp, drummer Paul Clarvis and keyboardist Liam Noble – the intention for this evening’s livestream from the ever-entertaining Pigfoot was set.
Pigfoot is known for its inclusive repertoire, Batchelor happily taking tunes he loves from across the eras and genres and transforming them into something that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a 1920s New Orleans jazz hall, while still managing to retain the essence of the original. From the opening rendition of Heartbreak Hotel, given a Black Coffee-esque makeover eliciting thoughts more of Ella than Elvis, we’re taken through classical, Motown, rock – and even a bit of jazz.
A combined version of Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & The Pips classic Motown Just A Closer Walk With Thee/His Eye Is On the Sparrow A and B side tracks follows the Elvis opener. Here we get a real taste of the excellent interplay between the two horn players that forms a cornerstone throughout, sharing melodic lines and creating varied texture that moves from gritty to lyrical and beyond.
Allsopp shines in a completely reinvented mash-up of Mozart opera favourites Isis & Osiris (Die Zauberflöte) and Dove Sono (The Marriage of Figaro), playing the former piece’s bass vocal melody on baritone sax in super smooth style. It can’t be an exaggeration to say that the way this leads into an up-tempo, township-tinged version of Dove Sono (with the leading line played on trumpet with an almost fanfare feel) must be the most original treatment of this originally aching, sorrow-filled aria.
It speaks to the inventiveness of Batchelor’s reconstructions that it can take a while for the ear to pick up exactly what is happening – but that’s all part of the fun. These are tunes you probably know, maybe even love, but as you’ve most definitely never heard them before.
Noble’s easy, lyrical opening for the next operatic reworking (this time Strauss’ Dance of the 7 Veils from Salome) against a backdrop of electronic pulses adds a new dimension. This leads nicely into the whispering trumpet that pushes and pulls against bass clarinet and sparse drums for a piece filled with intrigue that has more than a little of the film-noir about it.
The second half opens with an aptly funky take on Curtis Mayfield’s Pusherman, followed by the only track that would originally have fallen into the jazz category (Fats Wallers’ Jitterbug Waltz); still, this is no straight rendition, flying into pure deconstructed frenzy at points. Next is standout, anything goes version of Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog. Batchelor lets loose on flugelhorn, giving the wild vocals of Robert Plant a run for their money.
The succinct Elvis finale opens in, now expected, unrecognisable fashion with some nice duo work from Clarvis and Noble. Then in bursts the trumpet line with a quick, clear melody line from Hound Dog before swiftly moving into an excerpt from Jailhouse Rock. From here, it glides between traditional jive and free play accentuated by dark, stabbing electronic keys. The tune comes back in for a final flourish that brings the concert to a happy close.
This is music made not just to be listened to, but moved to, cheered to – so it feels like an extra loss not to be in a room filled with sweat and smiles. Yet still, even audience-free, there’s no denying the energy of the band’s unapologetically playful approach.
All-round, another riotous lark from Pigfoot, demonstrating that excellent musicianship and a willingness to think well outside the box can really bring a bit of NOLA jazz magic to pretty much anything.